T. Gary Rogers, photo courtesy of the Rogers Family Foundation
The University of California rowing program was on the verge of significant change in 2007 when head coach Steve Gladstone was about to step down to run the newly formed California Rowing Club.
Establishing the CRC was a longtime dream of T. Gary Rogers, a successful San Francisco area businessman who had rowed as an undergraduate at Cal, and later made a run at the 1964 U.S. Olympic rowing team.
Rogers, the story goes, went to trials in a four, lost, and came away from the experience believing that his team lacked sufficient coaching, equipment, and support. The former Cal oarsman was already using his business success to help fund his passion for rowing at Cal, but he wanted that one extra piece of the puzzle for athletes training in the Bay Area.
He wanted a place where young athletes could chase their Olympic dreams and have all the support he lacked. So he founded CRC and asked Gladstone to lead it.
But, before he hired Gladstone, he needed to help find the right coach to take over at Cal. For that, he called then U.S. men's national team coach Mike Teti, and brought him out to visit Cal. When Teti got there, Rogers set the table for what a new coach could expect.
"He told me, 'If you come here, this is what I am prepared to do for you, what Cal is prepared to do for you.'" Teti said. "It was boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. He was very detailed.
"Still, I went there thinking I wasn't going to take the job. But then Gary talked about family. He wanted this to be a good experience for me and my family. He was a good family guy. He understood what that meant, and he knew that my family was very important to me.
"He didn't say you should coach at Cal because we have this, this, this and this," Teti continued. "No, he knew how important my family was to me and he was prepared, they were prepared, to have it be a great situation, a great living experience, for me and my family."
And on that, Teti was sold.
Teti was moved to tell that story Friday because he wanted people to understand the kind of man the 74-year-old longtime business leader and philanthropist was and what the rowing community lost when Rogers died of a heart attack Tuesday while playing tennis.
"He was very close with his family, with his wife Kathleen "Cab" Rogers, with his kids and his grandkids. And he talked about it," Teti said. "We come from different backgrounds, but I'm one of 10 kids. Obviously, where our connection started to separate was I was a solid C- minus student and he was top of his class in mechanical engineering at Cal. I couldn't relate to the academic side. But, to the personal side I could."
Born in Stockton, California, Rogers began his life-long love and commitment to rowing, and to Cal crew, when he enrolled at the university to study mechanical engineering. As varsity rower, Rogers was awarded the Dean Witter Trophy for loyalty, proficiency, and spirit for Cal crew in his senior year. He was named an All-University Athlete in 1963.
Rogers credited the lessons he learned in crew for his success in business and in life.
"That's where I learned the lessons of life," Rogers told the San Francisco Business Times in 2011. "I learned more in rowing than I learned in any classroom. My crew coach would always say, 'There's no such thing as can't, only won't.' It's the power of optimism and persistence. The joy in life is the struggle."
Rogers later earned his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School in 1968 and went on to a highly successful business career. He is best known for the 30 years he spent building the Dreyer's Ice Cream company, which he purchased in 1977 with partner William Cronk.
According to the San Francisco Business Times story, Rogers and Cronk bought the company for $1 million when it had just 75 employees and $6 million in annual sales. In 2006, Nestle purchased Dreyer's for $3.2 billion when it was the largest U.S. based ice cream company and employed 8,000 people.
Rogers business resume also included time as the chairman and director of Levi Strauss & Co., chairman on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and chairman of Safeway Inc.
As a philanthropist, Rogers began supporting Cal in the 1970s, and he contributed to several Cal teams, including men's and women's rowing, men's golf, men's and women's tennis, rugby, and football.
Rogers also supported and contributed to many of the Bay Area's associations and organizations, including the Doe and Bancroft libraries, the Cal Alumni Association, the Haas School of Business, the UC Botanical Garden, and public research and engagement centers on campus. He was recognized by the university and awarded the Bear of the Year Award, the Wheeler Oak Meritorious Award, a Trustees' Citation, and the 2013 Cal Athletic Hall of Fame Service Award.
In 2003, Rogers and Cab, his wife of 52 years, founded the Rogers Family Foundation, a private family foundation that primarily focuses on supporting and fostering excellence in Oakland's public schools.
Rogers remained a dedicated supporter of Cal rowing throughout his life, and the T. Gary Rogers Rowing Center on the Oakland Estuary is named in his honor. In addition, he served on the USRowing's High Performance Committee and was a supporter of the National Rowing Foundation.
It was through those associations that he met former national team oarsmen Charlie Hamlin, the NRF's executive director, and NRF co-chairman Jamie Koven. Each recall special moments listening to Rogers talk and tell stories.
"He was a larger than life kind of guy," Koven said. "He loved to tell stories. I saw him in a lot of different places, and whenever you had Gary in front of the athletes, he told stories. He talked about his experiences in rowing and he talked about the lessons he learned in business.
"You can find them online; there are lots of cool videos of him telling stories online," Koven said. "He had decided that these are the things he wanted to pass on to other people."
Video: Lessons Learned in 40 Years of Business Building
Koven remembers one occasion when he was training in an attempt to earn a spot on the 2012 Olympic team, and Rogers visited the team at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center.
Rogers' favorite quote, Koven said, was from Louis Pasteur: "Fortune favors only the prepared mind."
Rogers, Koven said, felt he was able to draw from his crew experiences, and the hard work rowing required to be prepared to race, to help build Dreyer's into the success it became.
"That was his main message, but there were two," Koven said. "The other was, in training for the national team, we all know that there was going to be some luck involved at the world championships and the Olympics, but the only way you are going to benefit from that luck is if you put in the massive amount of effort now, and you're organized and thoughtful about how you get there.
"He taught that if you got that stuff right, then you were putting yourself in a position to benefit from being fortunate, and I think that was his big message."
Hamlin also spent time enjoying hearing Rogers tell stories and share life lessons. He remembers sitting in Rogers' office at the Rogers Family Foundation - an office that is built on and looks out at the start line of the three-mile race course he rowed on in Oakland, on the Estuary.
This lesson was about trust, delegation, and empowering people to make decisions and how that encouraged employees and teammates to take ownership of the results of those decisions.
"He talked about why he had some of the successes he had in business," Hamlin said. "And one of the things that stuck in my mind was when he said to me, 'You have to decide what function is absolutely critical to the success of your company. And you focus on that function. And you go out and hire someone to take care of that function,'" Hamlin recalled.
Hamlin said story continued with Rogers talking about how important it is to give that person the ability to make the choices and decisions it would require to succeed.
"He said to me, 'if I choose the decision, then it's my choice and it's my responsibility. If you choose, it's your responsibility.' And he said that worked out every time." Hamlin said.
As the time Rogers spent leading businesses lessened, he spent more time around the Cal boathouse, and during those moments, Teti saw a side of Rogers he will always remember.
"When I first came out here to coach, I had relationship with him, but I didn't see him that often," Teti said. "He would come down for practice every once in a while, maybe a few times a year. But since he got away from a lot of things, he came around more.
"We have a lot of guys that are super serious about their academics, and they come to me and ask what I think about when they should apply to graduate school, should they take time off to work. They want to know what I think about the engineering program at Purdue or something like that. I would tell them to call Gary.
"He would take their calls and answer their emails, and sometimes when I would come off the water, I would see him talking to these guys. They would be in these deep conversations about their future. And he just loved that. He loved it.
"He told me, 'Don't get me wrong. We love winning races, but this is why I think rowing is so important.' He believed rowing changed his life," Teti said. "I think he really believed that he would not have been as successful as he was without rowing, and he loved to share that."
Rogers is survived by his wife and four sons Andy, Matt, Brian and John, and eleven grandchildren who knew him as "Bwana." He is also survived by his mother, Virginia, and brothers, Don and Jim.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that Gary's legacy be recognized through donation to these worthy organizations: T. Gary Rogers Endowment Fund for the UC Berkeley Men’s Crew, Rogers Family Office 10 Clay Street, Suite 200 Oakland, CA 94607
Lighthouse Community Charter School, Attn: Jenna Stauffer 444 Hegenberger Road Oakland, CA 94621
An outdoor memorial service will be held at the T. Gary Rogers Rowing Center on Monday, May 15 at 11:00 AM. T. Gary Rogers Rowing Center, 2999 Glascock St., Oakland, California.