BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Jimmy Rane’s office in the south Alabama town of Abbeville is one part shrine, one part workspace.
As CEO of Great Southern Wood Preserving, Rane is a great American success story. It’s a story that began with tragedy when the death of Rane’s in-laws in 1970 forced Rane to take over the family business.
”We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul, always. We never, ever had any extra money,” Rane said. “Dad used to always say, it’s okay to give out but don’t ever, ever give up. And there were several dark days, days when I didn’t have any more money and didn’t have any way to get any more money. but the Lord provided a way.”
To make ends meet, Rane would work at Great Southern Wood in the morning before serving as an attorney and a Henry County judge later in the day.
”I had two black telephones,” Rane recalled. “One would ring I’d say Jimmy Rane Law Office, the other would ring I’d say Great Southern Wood Preserving.”
Exasperated and exhausted, a lifeline arrived in the form of an invitation to join a management program at Harvard Business School.
”We were studying five subjects, one of them was accounting. One of the cases was Browning Lumber Company. It was a Thursday night, I remember it just like it was yesterday. It was like an epiphany. I know what’s wrong.”
The problem was a lack of funding. Sticking his neck out to secure a $1 million loan, Rane had the green light to pursue rapid growth.
Harnessing the momentum, the company would soon debut the popular “Yella Fella” ad campaign, a marketing effort that brought Rane into homes all around the country.
“I had a ball. I was in my 60s and riding horses, playing Cowboys and Indians. Doing the things I’d always dreamed about.”
Now, well into his 70s, Rane has retired the Yella Fella. The company he founded continues to soar with annual revenue now nearing $2 billion dollars, allowing Rane to amass incredible wealth and the title of the “Richest Man in Alabama.”
It’s a designation he questions and a focus he finds uncomfortable.
”Well, first of all, I don’t know who makes these,” Rane said. “I am sure they are probably referring to the company [but] what it does is an entity in and of itself and it’s not one person. You can’t eat but three meals a day, you can’t drive but one car and you can’t wear but one pair of pants. The rest of it doesn’t really amount to a lot does it?”
With financial concerns long gone, Rane is now able to reflect on what he’s accomplished as well as the grit and grace that’s led him all along the way.
”If you have a dream, then you don’t give up on it, you pursue it. You continue in spite of the hardships and the setbacks. The debt I owe to so many partners, so many people who joined with me, I can never repay,” Rane said. “They believed in me and gave me a chance and I don’t know how I can ever repay that. That’s what made this whole thing successful: believing in each other and working together and being committed and sticking to it.”
On Thursday, Rane will be inducted into the Alabama Business Hall of Fame for his incredible success.
While his name alone will be on the award, Rane acknowledges his success story is due in large part to those who saw something in him, all along the way.