Don Ritchey, Sloan ’64: Leaving Behind Academia, Delivering an Academic Legacy

A student takes the fruits of his ‘best year ever’ back to the workplace, but he, and his family, can’t stay away from Stanford.

November 02, 2015

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From left to right: Don Ritchey, Sharon Ritchey (Don’s wife), and their granddaughters

This series features reflections from our alumni on their school experiences and their aspirations, learnings, challenges, and joys. Here, Don Ritchey’s recollections of what the master’s program meant to him are shared through the eyes of a special representative from Stanford GSB.

When I asked my grandfather, Don Ritchey, Sloan ’64, about his time spent in the Stanford Sloan Program, now the Stanford MSx Program, he called it “his best year ever spent doing anything.”

In addition to gaining close friends and corporate skills while at Stanford, my grandpa — whom we affectionately call “Don,” as he insists “Grandpa” sounds too formal and old — described his year there as “a chance to get his head on straight.”

After earning his bachelor’s in accounting and master’s in management at San Diego State University, Don initially wanted to go into academia. Instead, he worked for six years at grocery chain Lucky Stores Inc. as a store manager in San Diego and in Phoenix. Instead, he went back to grocery chain Lucky Stores Inc., where he was previously employed part time, to work as a store manager in San Diego and in Phoenix. He then returned to SDSU as an employee, the graduate manager responsible for all on-campus commercial activities, such as the bookstore and the cafeterias. Running low on money after two years at San Diego State, Don applied for a Sloan grant in hopes of integrating his academic plans with the opinions and methodologies of the many business and government specialists who study at Stanford.

An Incredible Opportunity for Growth

In 1963, after accepting his admission to the Stanford Sloan Program, Don moved with my grandma, my mom, and my two uncles to Stanford’s campus. Don describes the family’s time living in Escondido Village as an incredible opportunity for growth, both for Don himself and for his entire family. He remembers watching his children race their bicycles around Stanford’s campus with the children of his classmates.

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Children playing together at Escondido Village circa 1964.

My grandpa tells me that his Sloan class was both diverse and very close socially. His classmates in the master’s program, who came from a broad range of backgrounds, countries, and experiences, all helped each other out in courses where one student was more of an “expert” professionally. At the end of the year, Don’s “industry” classmates returned to their respective organizations. The doctoral candidates’ grants were to be reviewed, and Don expected to continue coursework and prepare for his dissertation.

A Return to Doing

Perhaps the most valuable knowledge my grandpa gained from his time in the Stanford Sloan Program was the realization that while he enjoyed thinking about things, he really enjoyed doing things. His year at Stanford helped him discover that he would never achieve the same level of success or personal satisfaction in academics as he would in the business sector. While the other five doctoral candidates in his class went on to get their PhDs and enter the world of academia, my grandpa returned to Lucky Stores.

Including the four years he spent working part-time as a college student, Don worked at Lucky for an incredible 32 years. The last six years, he served as the company’s CEO and chairman. With my grandpa’s help, Lucky became a large, successful, and diversified retail company. When he retired in 1986, Lucky Stores had 15,000 retail stores, 57,000 employees, locations in 33 states, and the largest food store share of the market in California.

Giving Back to Stanford GSB

My grandfather found his experience at Stanford to be so rewarding that he came back to campus several times in different roles. He first returned as a guest speaker for the Sloan program for several years, and later served on the Stanford GSB advisory council and as president of the Stanford Sloan Advisory Board.

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My grandfather found his experience at Stanford to be so rewarding that he came back to campus several times in different roles.

To Don’s great excitement, his love of Stanford was passed down to my mom, Tamara, who was a member of the Stanford undergraduate Class of 1980 and the Stanford MBA Class of 1983. Continuing in my mom’s and grandpa’s footsteps, I am currently a member of Stanford’s undergraduate Class of 2016, majoring in art history and minoring in modern languages (French and Italian).

Stanford has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it is so fun to hear from my grandpa and my mom about how much (or in some cases, how little!) life at Stanford has changed over the past 50 years.

— Eliza Powers, a member of the Stanford undergraduate Class of 2016 and Don Ritchey’s granddaughter

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