Richard T. Farmer, philanthropist and the founder of Cintas Corp., dead at age 86

Richard T. Farmer, philanthropist and the founder of Cintas Corp., dead at age 86
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 2:22 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (Enquirer) - Richard T. Farmer, the founder and chairman emeritus of Cintas Corp., has died, according to a LinkedIn post by the Miami University business school named for Farmer’s family. He was 86.

The business leader and philanthropist’s life story is literally one of going from rags to riches, according to our media partners at the Enquirer. His company grew through acquisitions and start-ups, transforming the family business into a public company that reported a $1.1 billion profit on sales of $7.1 billion at the end of the most recent fiscal year. The company ranked No. 410 on the most recent Fortune 500 list.

When Farmer joined Acme Uniform and Linen Co. in 1957, the family-owned industrial rag business in Kennedy Heights employed 12 people.

Over the next five decades, Farmer demonstrated how his precise focus on a deceptively simple formula for growth transformed the small local company into a national powerhouse.

Today, Cintas is now not only the nation’s largest uniform rental company but a business-to-business juggernaut, supplying more than a million customers with floor care, restroom supplies, first aid and safety products, fire extinguishers and testing, and safety and compliance training.

Farmer joined his family’s industrial laundry in 1957 after he graduated from Miami in 1956. By 1967, the company’s annual revenue grew from $180,000 to $1.6 million.

Two innovations spurred by Farmer kicked the company’s growth into a new gear.

In 1966, the company was working with three other companies to develop a cotton/polyester blend that revolutionized the uniform rental industry.

In 1968, Farmer created Satellite Corp. to provide central distribution and smaller uniform plants in every metropolitan area in the United States. Satellite had an aggressive program of acquisitions that led to 40- to 50-percent annual growth rates in the 1970s. By 1970, Satellite Corp. was a proven success, and Farmer merged it with the family business.

In 1983, new company with new name

In 1983, the merged business took the name Cintas. The company hired an ad agency to deliver a new name “to take the company into the future,” according to Cintas’ website. But the agency didn’t deliver, so Farmer, company controller Bob Kohlhepp (who rose through the ranks to ultimately become the company’s president and then chairman) and marketing partner Nick Curtis came up with Cintas while doodling on a napkin.

The company’s growth led Cintas to a new headquarters in Blue Ash in 1974. The company moved its headquarters to a 28-acre campus in Mason in 1991.

Farmer served as CEO through 1995 and as board chairman through 2010. He served on the company’s board until 2018.

“My father has been the heart and soul of Cintas for many years,” said Farmer’s son, Scott D. Farmer, when the father stepped down from the board; the son remains the company’s executive chairman. “His vision and commitment have helped the company thrive and positioned it for even greater success in the future.”

During World War II, Farmer’s grandfather would pick up the young boy and his sister at school and drive them to work.

“I had handled dirty rags all of my life,” he said in an interview when he was named to the Greater Cincinnati Business Hall of Fame in 1996. “I didn’t want anything to do with that.”

While attending Miami University in Oxford, Richard Farmer continued washing, folding and counting towels for his father, Hershell. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1956, Farmer married and decided to strike out on his own and leave the family business.

The two argued about the idea until one afternoon, his father said, “Dick, this thing just isn’t working out,” Farmer said, recalling the 1957 afternoon in his father’s office. As the 23-year-old man braced himself for the worst – being asked to leave the business – his father instead asked him to take over. “He handed me those keys and said, ‘You run this place,’ " Farmer said.

“I worked seven days a week until I dropped,” he said, adding that his vision of having a Cintas rental operation in every U.S. city kept him going.

“Corporate culture is the single most important distinguishing factor between greatness and mediocrity. It is the major reason Cintas is different from competitors and other companies. It is our ultimate competitive advantage,” Farmer once said.

Accolades through his lifetime

In 2010, Farmer received a key to the city of Mason because “his leadership and contributions are a tremendous asset to our community,” said then-mayor Don Prince. “We made a good decision when we decided to move our headquarters here,” Farmer said when he accepted the key. “We look forward to continuing to be a good corporate citizen for years to come.”

In 2010, Farmer also was honored by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber as a Great Living Cincinnatian.

In 1998, Cintas and the Farmer Family Foundation forged a partnership with Matthew 25: Ministries to make a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor worldwide with donations of fabric, finished clothing, first aid products and anti-bacterial soaps and other items to fight disease.

Perhaps no institution has benefitted more from the philanthropy of Richard Farmer than Miami University.

In 1992, the Farmers provided the cornerstone gift to the School of Business. In 2005, the Farmer Family Foundation was the lead donor for the construction of the Farmer School of Business building and faculty support. The $40 million commitment in 2016 at the time was the largest of any single foundation or individual in the university’s 207-year history.

Both Farmer and his wife, Joyce, have served Miami University and the Farmer School of Business in volunteer leadership roles and advisory boards. Joyce Barnes Farmer earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Miami in 1957.

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