I visited my dad (Ron DeGrange) for the holidays and he is currently living in 24/7 care. He was diagnosed with dementia and it's been a painful process for my family and I. It’s a slow goodbye that I’m not ready for. I honestly don’t think I will ever be ready.
When I saw him I still got to see a version of him that I remember. It was an occasional glimmer in his eye, smile, or laugh. It was nice to see a brief spark of his true self.
Going through this with my family definitely makes you think about his life and what I’ve learned from him.
He was a great rock of constant support. He was also an excellent teacher to me and countless others. He had a passion for horses and taught thousands of students. He was instrumental in the success of the family business and was an ever-present dad attending nearly every baseball practice and game possible.
Ronny lived the Cowboy Code of Ethics - maybe at times to a fault. He was certainly a cowboy, cut from a different cloth, and perhaps built for another time. He rarely used a cell phone and never touched a personal computer. He has a number of euphemisms and sayings. Here are a few of my favorites, “Ronny’s Code of The West.”
- Don’t confuse motion with progress. Sometimes doing nothing is the right move, just because you are active does not mean you are productive.
- Don’t let the tail wag the dog. Don’t allow a part of the organization to overtake things and lead the team away from its core mission. Leaders and good teams need to stay focused on core values, listen to each part of the organization, take things into consideration, but ultimately decide on the right path and stay true to the organization's values and goals.
- Bought right is half sold. While he was a mentor to many, he also benefited from some great mentors himself. He worked with horse whisperers like Harold Cummins and Greg Ward. Two very positive influences for him. Harold was a savvy horse trader and he would often tell my dad this slogan. It’s arbitrage. A purchase of a horse, stock, land, even media for paid marketing. This is a good reminder to structure deals properly upfront to ensure that it is profitable, mutually beneficial, and able to drive value and Return On Investment (ROI).
- 8 hours before lunch 8 hours after. While working 16 hour days is not how he lived, nor do I think it is sustainable, he definitely put in his share of long workdays and was a big proponent of hard work. He would say “you need to outwork the other guy,” and “the harder I work the luckier I get.” Stories of struggle hustle and physical work from leaders, teammates, fellow horse trainers, cowboys, or professionals in sports and business were held in high regard. On one day in particular on the ranch, we put in a solid 14 hours of straight up labor. He would often work until the job was done. At RBL hard work is definitely part of the job description for a small growing agency. It’s appreciated and rewarded, but we are in a fortunate situation to be able to work smarter rather than harder, and results are more important than hours clocked.
- Keep chipping away at the granite. This was his way of saying, Rome was not built in a day. You need to have patience and persistence to get to where you want to go and achieve your goal. If you keep at it, and break the challenge down into smaller digestible bites, you will eventually meet your objectives. The larger goal, long to-do list, or greater objective can look overwhelming, but when taken into smaller digestible steps, it can be much more achievable. While RBL launched 5 years ago, it has been a journey and in some ways it’s been 10 years in the making. The plan for RBL is that this is something that will be viable for a very long time and built for long term success rather than short term gain.
- Do what you dream about. My dad was a big believer in self-actualization and personal freedom. His dad (my grandfather) worked in the prison system in Amador county. It offered him a predictable life of structure, routine, and security after the Depression and WWII when my dad was born. My dad always mentioned this choice he was presented with. He took an uncertain path, one less traveled, one with more risk and perhaps more reward. Horse trainers don’t exactly get pensions. It’s funny how his advice to do what you truly enjoy is so aligned with so many other great teachers - and for many surprisingly hard to do. I am lucky that I have been able to follow his advice. It is wild to get to do what I do each day with RBL. I definitely love what I do and if someone gave me one million dollars I would probably do what I am doing now: leading a great team, growth strategy, coming up with creative ideas to challenging problems, working with some brilliant minds, collaborating with good clients, helping businesses grow, running tests to more efficiently acquire and retain customers, applying data and a scientific process to deliver results and impact, and perhaps most enjoyable for me is the constant learning and improving.
My mom recently told a story of my dad when I asked her what he taught her that she found most helpful. They ran a summer camp together on the property I grew up on. My mom shared that one of those life lessons came during one of their many horse coaching training sessions in the horse arena, which they spent countless hours preparing for a show or teaching a lesson. As some horse trainers might appreciate it was often more of a people training session than a horse training session.
Their discipline was reining and my dad advised my mom to attempt to stop and slide the horse without a bridle. This took away the most important factor - the breaks of the car for horse and rider. It reminded me of Star Wars and Obi-Wan Kenobi instructing Luke to train blind with the lightsaber. Not an easy task to say the least to stop a 1,200-pound animal running at full speed without your most effective braking mechanism. His unconventional advice worked, and she recalls it as one of his most helpful lessons.
There is no doubt that Ronny’s lessons have informed my life and inspired Round Barn Labs.
I hope this gives you a little inspiration, like my dad for me.