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Opinion: Dr Pepper CEO ensures hometown fundraiser won't fizzle

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The 2011 southwest Missouri Cattle Baron’s Ball has a business and fundraising powerhouse behind it. His name is Larry D. Young, and he’s in charge of a nearly $6 billion beverage company (NYSE: DPS).

Young’s a Springfield native, and this year was honored with two exceptional awards: Executive of the Year by Beverage Industry magazine and induction into the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame. During his visit to Springfield to receive the award, he got hooked on helping the American Cancer Society’s local effort, which raised $670,000 in 2010.

I recently spoke with Young about his involvement as the ball’s honorary chairman and how his connection in Springfield propelled him to president and CEO of Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group.

Eric Olson: When did you first become familiar with the Cattle Baron’s Ball?
Larry Young: I was involved with the American Cancer Society in Chicago and one of the largest fundraisers up there. Then, when I came down to Texas, I’ve been involved with the Cattle Baron’s of Dallas the last six years. It’s a fantastic organization and does a tremendous amount of good. We’ve got to find a cure for this thing some day. It affects so many lives.

EO: Dallas is the granddaddy of the Cattle Baron’s Ball events, right?
LY: Yeah. With this being the home of Dr Pepper, we’re very involved in it. It’s just something we plan on every year. We take a lot of customers in there with us. I’d love to see my hometown get as big as Dallas.

EO: Is Dr Pepper a presenting sponsor in Dallas?
LY: Yes, we do all the entertainment. In our business, we have a lot of different music. We’re the major sponsor of the Country Music Awards. We do a pretty good job of bringing these guys in – Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Sugarland. They’ll be in the Top 10.

My wife and I are very involved in it also. I’m kind of a hit at it, because in the live auction I bid on everything to make sure it gets bid up. Every year, I get stuck with a lot of stuff, too. I usually buy my cars at it. I get one of the dealerships in town to donate a car, at the real cost, not dealer invoice, and everything above that goes to the charity. I bought my wife a Cayenne Porsche at this year’s ball.

EO: Do you foresee automobiles as part of the Springfield event auction Aug. 20?
LY: We need to go rattle those Thompson boys’ cage. I just bought my mother and my mother-in-law a car (at Thompson Sales Co.). We need to get Lynn and the boys stepping up. They could have a blast with it.

EO: You were in town for the Springfield Public Schools Hall of Fame recognition, and returned to Dallas as the Cattle Baron’s Ball honorary chairman. How did that come about?
LY: When I was up there, Steve Naegler with Fast N Friendly asked if I’d consider being honorary chairman. He said, “I know you travel and your schedule’s as hectic as can be, but we’d sure be thrilled if you would.” I said, “Steve, for Springfield, for the American Cancer Society and for the Cattle Baron’s, I’ll make my schedule work for you.”

EO: With your hand on the Springfield ball, what are some new fundraising ideas that might surface?
LY: The cars play unbelievably. We do two cars every year at the Cattle Baron’s. One is in the live auction, and the other is in a raffle. As everybody comes in the front gate, they sign up for those raffles immediately – we’ll have cars, jewelry and trips.

EO: What does your job entail?
LY: The biggest thing I do is in leadership. I spend a tremendous amount of time with investors and shareholders. For instance, I leave Sunday for New York for a dinner Sunday night, and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I’ll be with investors and analysts. I’ll speak on Monday. I do a lot of speaking on business and putting together the right strategies.

EO: What about your upbringing in Springfield do you put to work on the job?
LY: My father put in me a tremendous work ethic and discipline. I was able to go to school and take that same training. I had a fabulous mother who supported me and was very involved in the schools. I learned to say there was nothing that a person couldn’t do.

EO: You don’t arrive in the position atop a $6 billion company overnight. How did you make it?
LY: You’ve got to lay out your career path, deciding what you want to do. You’ve got to look at it and say I’m never going to be satisfied with what I get to. Every promotion I’m going to raise the bar. I started on a route truck, and basically, held every position in the beverage industry. … You have to take it with full vigor, and once you’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do, raise the bar and go for something bigger.

Somebody asked me the other day, “Boy, if you’re dad was around, what would your dad say?” My dad would smile real big and say, “Only the good Lord could do so much with so little.”

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson is co-chair of the Cattle Baron’s Ball publicity committee. He can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.[[In-content Ad]]

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