Getting to Yes, And

Robert Pasin: A Chicago Story


Robert Pasin

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Kelly connects with Radio Flyer's Chief Wagon Officer, Robert Pasin to talk about his family's iconic Chicago-based company.

Your grandfather started Radio Flyer and it’s a great immigrant story. Can you tell us how he started the company?

“My grandpa came to America from a small town in Northern Italy when he was 16 years old in 1914 and my grandpa was born into a family of cabinet makers and carpenters. So they were working class poor in Italy. He came to America like so many other immigrants in search of a better life. And he came to Chicago and he just started getting any job he could. He worked on railroad crews. He worked washing vegetables, he just did whatever he could to earn money. And after a few years of doing that, he'd saved up enough money to rent a small garage on the West side of Chicago and he started making furniture. And one of the first things he made were those old phonograph cabinets, but he also made a little wooden wagon to haul tools around his workshop. And pretty soon he was selling more wagons than anything else. And like any entrepreneur, he pivoted, he was agile. And he went with wagons and pretty soon he was solely on wagons.”

The culture at Radio Flyer has always been strong and it’s always put its emphasis on treating workers well. Talk to us about how that came to be.

“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my grandpa came from very humble means and a lot of people helped him along the way. When he came to Chicago at the time, you know, it was a fairly hostile environment in this country to Italians. And so he did face some discrimination. You know, people used ethnic slurs and people wouldn't hire him because he was Italian. And so when he became successful, he never forgot that. And he always wanted to help other people. And he just was a very kind, generous, decent person who I think just had that philosophy: ‘But for the grace of God go, I.’ And so he always treated other people with kindness and respect. And I think that really got baked into the DNA of our company. That's how he raised my dad. And that's how my dad raised me.”

So I’m kind of obsessed with various company’s mission and vision statements - which are usually awful - but your vision statement is great: To be the world’s most loved children’s brand.

“Yeah, it's evolved. I mean, those words, weren't the original words. But when I came in there, we had no written vision statement or mission statement. So we started talking about what we want to become. What does Radio Flyer mean to people? We had just a company wide discussion where we had those big, huge post-its on easels. And we started writing and we had this whole room just plastered with these white pieces of paper about how people feel about Radio Flyer. What are the stories people tell? And there were just these amazing, wonderful recurring themes. And it was all about love. It was all about family. When you say the words, Radio Flyer to people, the first thing they do is smile.”

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