The literal “rags-to-riches” story authored by Cintas Corporation founder Richard T. Farmer embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country an incubator for creativity and achievement.
So says Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the College of Business at The University of Southern Mississippi, in announcing Farmer’s selection as the 2011 Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year.
“Dick Farmer’s background and education are not that different from the vast majority of our students,” said Nail. “He serves as a role model to our students in showing that it requires not only intellect and complex skill sets to advance in the business world, but it also requires hard work and dedication to honesty and integrity.”
Farmer, chairman emeritus at Cintas, was honored as the 2011 Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year during a ceremony and luncheon on Tuesday, March 29 at the Trent Lott National Center for Excellence in Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. The annual award is part of the Boardman Forum, established by Joseph Boardman of Gulfport, Miss. Nominations for the honor are presented by the Southern Miss Business Advisory Council.
Farmer guided Cintas, which began as his grandfather’s rag-cleaning business during the Great Depression, to a diversified business-services company with revenues that exceeded $3.5 billion in 2010. Among the 30,000-plus Cintas partners are numerous Southern Miss graduates.
“I am both humbled and honored to receive this award from such a distinguished institution as this one,” said Farmer. “Cintas has found a great partnership in the university, in both the caliber of students and the preparedness for their careers, as evidenced in the many Cintas employee-partners who hold degrees from Southern Miss. I congratulate them and the university for maintaining this standard of excellence.”
This past August the Southern Mississippi College of Business was ranked among the nation’s best business programs by U.S. News & World Report for the first time in school history. In the fall of 2009 the department unveiled its Business Honors House, the university’s first coed living-learning residential community.
Farmer had an opportunity to tour the Southern Miss campus for the first time prior to the award luncheon and came away duly impressed.
“I love what is happening here on this campus with all the new construction blending so beautifully with the older architecture,” said Farmer. “It’s also great to see so many green spaces on campus. I think you’re on the right track here with the College of Business under the leadership of Dr. Nail. I expect great things to happen over the course of time with that business school.”
Farmer’s commitment to higher education is reflected in the $30 million contribution he made to his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, and the business school that bears his name. Business Week’s annual survey of the nation’s best undergraduate business programs ranked The Farmer School of Business seventh among those programs offered by public universities and colleges in the United States. Nail credits the Farmer School of Business for providing the blueprint to success the Southern Miss program has enjoyed and hopes to maintain.
“I knew of Cintas and Mr. Farmer before I came to Southern Miss, but I didn’t realize the heights of success until I researched Miami and the drivers of their rapid rise in the business school rankings when determining what type of school Southern Miss should aspire to become,” said Nail. “The Farmer School of Business is definitely a school we aspire to emulate.”
Cintas Corporation, with headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, operates more than 420 facilities in the United States and Canada, including six manufacturing plants and eight distribution centers. The company has evolved into the nation’s largest uniform provider with more than five million people wearing Cintas apparel. The company also specializes in workplace first aid and safety products; fire protection; document management and facility services, including restroom cleaning and supplies, floor mat services and carpet and tile cleaning.
Nail notes that what stands out most about Farmer and the Cintas domain goes well beyond products, services and Wall Street valuation.
“Dick delivered a speech at Xavier University about three years ago that I watched and it served as an inspiration to me and should to every business student at Southern Miss,” said Nail. “Business lessons abounded in his talk, but the key point to me was that a successful business is the result of a successful corporate culture and how the Cintas culture was based on honesty, integrity and professionalism.
“This is Dick Farmer’s message that I hope reaches every one of our students.”