The start of a long-term relationship: The "Charter Member Team" of 12 entrants from Rich Products takes a pre-race photo in Delaware Park in 1981. Rich Products has entered all 29 Buffalo Chase Corporate Challenges, including the June 4 race.
As Corporate Challenge 'Charter Member,'
Rich Products has long-running tradition
A focus on a healthy lifestyle begins at the top at Rich Products. President and CEO Bill Gisel champions policies that encourage participation in events such as the Corporate Challenge.
BUFFALO, N.Y., April 29, 2009 — When the debut Chase Corporate Challenge was held in Buffalo in 1981, 425 entrants gathered on the greens of Delaware Park. A dozen of those pioneers represented Rich Products Corporation, and they evidently not only were fit, but a bit clairvoyant as well.
“They called themselves the ´Charter Member Team',” said Sarah Jane Burke, Human Resources Representative at the family-owned company that is headquartered in Buffalo and has grown to sell more than 2,000 products in 73 countries.
When the 29th edition of Buffalo 's Chase Corporate Challenge is run on Thursday, June 4, one of the originals from the “Charter Member Team” — Jack Mathias — could well join in the celebration of fitness and camaraderie. Almost three decades after he helped assemble the “Charter Member Team” at Rich's, Mathias will look out on an event that has grown into easily the largest road race in Western New York.
Last year, 12,399 gathered Delaware Park. A sea of tents from many of the 421 companies entered filled the park and helped attract an estimated additional 15,000 party-goers. It is a fitness gathering that Rich Products would not miss.
“We've had a team in the Challenge every year since then (1981) and we've seen a steady increase in the number of associates who participate in the challenge every year,” said Burke. “We started with 12 in 1981 and have had as many as 130 in recent years!
“This is my second year coordinating Rich's participation in the Challenge,” Burke added. “My primary responsibility is to promote wellness at Rich's, so heading up this event aligned perfectly with my day-to-day focus. I have to say, though — I had big shoes to fill. JB Brown, who oversees our Corporate Services Team, coordinated the Challenge for 10 consecutive years prior to me taking over. JB is the primary reason the event is such a huge draw for our associates — he championed the event and drummed up participation. Plus, he knew how the throw a good party after the race!”
To cater that party, Brown, and now Burke, didn't have to look far. Rich Products was founded in 1945 by Robert Rich, Sr., who developed the first non-dairy whipped topping. From there, the company kept developing lines of food and other products, including a catering division that has become a big part of the post-race party at Delaware Park.
“We're lucky because not only are we a food company, but we have a catering operation in Buffalo as well,” said Burke. “Rich Renaissance Catering provides all of the food for our party; and they also cater to many other companies participating in the event. We have a variety of products in our health and wellness platform that we utilize at this event in particular. Our associates always enjoy when we feature our French Meadow Bakery Deserts such as our Gluten Free Brown ie Bites or Hemp Fudge Brownies.”
Rich Products employees enjoy catering after a Corporate Challenge by one of their own - Rich Renaissance Catering.
The emphasis on health and wellness is no accident at Rich Products. It runs deep within the company and shows up in healthy foods and in policies designed to promote well-being that start at the top.
“Our president and CEO, Bill Gisel, champions our enterprise-wide wellness program,” said Burke. “Through his personal commitment to health, he models the behaviors that we are encouraging all associates to adopt as part of a healthy lifestyle.”
Among the policies Gisel has helped institute is a summer-time switch in the work week. Employees work extended hours from Monday through Thursday so they can leave work at 1 p.m. on Fridays, hopefully to enjoy Buffalo 's too-short summer with a healthful outdoor activity. The company also has a fitness center with a fulltime trainer who offers complementary personal training sessions to employees, yoga and stretching classes, and more.
The other close fit Rich Products has with the Corporate Challenge is a concern for the environment. As with the Corporate Challenge's Teaming Up for A Greener Tomorrow campaign, Rich Products has adopted a greening initiative that has formalized a decades-long company policy of “sustainability” in using resources and dealing with the environment.
“Deb Gondek is our guru on going green at Rich Products,” said Burke. “In everything from packaging to procurement, using best practices for the environment helps.”
As with the Corporate Challenge, the scale involved - whether it is with 240,000 participants or $2.8 billion in annual sales for Rich Products - can add up to a big, positive impact on the environment.
Fitness... the camaraderie of a catered party... a greening initiative that complements company policy. It adds up to a long-term commitment from Rich Products to the Corporate Challenge that is headed for its third decade.