Spader Reflects on Work, His Career & Life
Editor’s Note: Despite working in an industry that represents travel, Duane Spader has spent much of his business career close to home. He grew up on an Oldham, S.D., farm reading three to five books a week, farming with horses, raising lambs and filling out pigs. He learned his South Dakota-based value system here and teaches it worldwide through Spader Business Management, a training and consulting company. He started Spader Camper Center in 1964 in Brookings and moved it to Sioux Falls in 1971. This summer, Spader was listed as one of the “100 Most Influential People in RV History” by RVBusiness magazine and in 2004 was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. A founding member of the national Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) , Spader served as president in 1974 and 75. As RVDAs top volunteer during a critical time in industry history, he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for what has grown into a unified and financially sound organization that serves the nations RV retailers. He is recognized as having conceived and developed the RVDA 20 Group programs, which allow dealers to network and share best practices. He has been an RV dealer for over 40 years and a campground operator for over 30 years. In these capacities, he has devised and distributed benchmarking and performance measurement concepts that have revolutionized the way RV dealers do business. He has been a friend, mentor and coach to hundreds of RV dealers from coast to coast. Following is an interview with Spader conducted by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Question: What’s your career story?
Answer: I wanted a college degree so bad, but I was 10 of 16 children, and my father did not believe in education, so I actually put myself through high school. I was the first boy in the family to go to high school and college. I started in 1964 in Brookings and ended up in a business that I never intended to. In 1964, I had to make the choice: give up my college degree or start a business.
Instead of paying my bills for college, I decided to start a business. About 1970, I was working 120 hours a week, basically paying to work. I was in the process of shutting down to go back to college when Ralph Rogers, a local Sioux Falls businessman, told me to move to Sioux Falls and that he’d help me.
So I had five of the top people in Sioux Falls as my mentors on how to expand the business. The mentors here in town – John Griffin, Lloyd Reaves, Jack Flowers, Allen Herman, Don Cornish – helped me to become a better businessman. The business continued to grow, and we’re now in 10 different industries.
Q: What’s the best part of being the founder of Spader Business Management?
A: The tremendous rewards that I get back from working with other people. We have over 5,000 business clients of every size, from just starting in business to international corporations. The amount of input I get back from working with them is phenomenal.
Q: What is your outlook on life?
A: First of all, I’m thankful to be born in the United States. I’ve been blessed in life; I’ve worked very hard, though, and am confident I could not have worked any harder. I’m thankful to be born in the family I have. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had in business. I also believe that without the responsibility that I learned as a child and without doing it for other people rather than myself, this business would not have survived like it did. My family background prepared me for this.
Q: What country would you like to visit and why?
A: I have customers in Australia, New Zealand and Moscow and have always wanted to visit them. If it weren’t for my health restrictions, I would be visiting my clients worldwide.
Q: Who is your favorite Disney character?
A: My favorite character is Mickey Mouse.
Q: If time machines existed, what time would you go back to and why?
A: I have mentioned this many times, being born in the 1940s allowed me to live in the best times in the world. I lived in a time with the luxuries of technology but also the stability and values that come when you don’t have the luxuries. I was fortunate enough to have them both.
I don’t know if I’d want to go to a different time at all. My kids don’t have the stability of the values that were implemented when there weren’t so many luxuries. They will adjust, but it isn’t like it used to be. I actually farmed with horses, and in the sixth grade, I had to go count how many cows we were milking at my father’s auctions. When I was 13, my parents took my siblings to Florida, and I stayed home all winter by myself. I lambed out 125 ewes, a mature female sheep, and filled out about 40 pigs. My folks gave me a huge amount of responsibility.
Q: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
A: If I could have any power it would be to have people understand the Bible and what’s behind the Bible. The real super power is outside of this life and that’s God. It’s something the young people are not recognizing as much as when we were children.
Q: What food can’t you live without?
A: The basics. Meat, potatoes and vegetables. It’s what I was raised with and what I still like today.
Q: What’s something people don’t know about you?
A: Even though I’m not a writer, I’ve written a couple booklets for my classmates. One is the One Dollar Empowerment and the other is After America. I’ve also published over 150 national pieces, and most local people do not know about that.