robably the wisest decision O.D.
McKee ever made was to choose Ruth King out of all the
women at Southern Junior College and ask her to be his
wife. In doing so, he not only chose a good wife and
mother, but he also chose the person who would become the ideal business partner for him.
There’s a term that’s almost overused in business — synergy — but it’s the best way to describe what Ruth and O.D. McKee brought to their baking business. Together they built what neither could have built alone.
O.D. was the typical entrepreneur — far reaching, big dreaming, impatient, restless, and relentless in the growth of the business. He loved a challenge and didn’t mind taking a giant leap into the great unknown. Ruth was cautious and thoughtful, good with money and good with people. She was slow to accept debt and always wanted to know that there would be a return on any investment, but she realized that taking risks is part of doing business. Over the years she made very courageous decisions to move ahead on expansions or new pieces of equipment when others held back.
When they bought a small bakery in Chattanooga in 1934, O.D. took the opportunity to build on his strengths. He immediately went on the road to develop sales. When he was at the plant he constantly looked for “a better way” of doing things — developing new products and automating processes. Ruth ran the plant, bought ingredients, hired employees, and handled the finances. Their son Ellsworth says, “If Mother had tried to do it alone, the business wouldn’t have grown the way it has. If Dad had tried to do it alone, he would have run it into the ground.”
O.D. and Ruth had much in common, too. They shared a love of God, family, and country. They shared a system of ethics that required them and others to work hard, be honest, and treat people fairly. They were not discouraged by failure, neither their own nor the failure of others. They believed in giving back to the community, to their church, and to their employees. They formed a corporate culture that was unique and continues today, evident in our Guiding Values.
They were committed to keeping their business family-owned, a commitment shared by the second and third generations.
Perhaps it is the acknowledgement of the founders’ differing styles and the way their unique contributions strengthened the business that helps the McKee family continue to manage the business in harmony today.