Former Toro CEO Was a Prominent Supporter of Christian UnionKendrick “Ken” B. Melrose once said, “The purpose of life is to serve God by serving others.” But Melrose did not only believe these words, he put them into action and lived a life of integrity as a servant leader.
Melrose passed away on May 3, 2020. The former chairman and CEO of The Toro Company, founder of Leading by Serving, LLC, and primary donor for Christian Union’s Melrose Center for Christian Leadership at Princeton, will be remembered for his deep love for Christ, his passion for leadership, and his profound generosity.
Melrose, a native of Orlando, graduated with honors from Princeton University in 1962, where he majored in mathematics and electrical engineering and was a varsity track letterman for three years. He received a Master of Science degree from the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and went on to receive his MBA from the University of Chicago.
Melrose joined The Toro Company in 1970, where he rose from being a director of marketing to CEO and chairman of the board. In 2006, he retired from Toro and set his gaze on something that had always been deeply important to him—servant leadership. During his years as a CEO, Melrose developed the deep conviction that the best business practices should be Christ-like and service-oriented. This passion led him to found Leading by Serving, LLC, an organization focused on advancing the principles of servant leadership. He also wrote the book, Making the Grass Greener on Your Side: A CEO’s Journey to Leading by Serving.
Melrose’s devotion to bringing Christ into the business sector and his love for his alma mater, Princeton, made Christian Union a natural interest. He first supported Christian Union by sponsoring a men’s track team Bible course in 2010. In 2017, he donated $1.1 million for the purchase of the Robert L. Melrose Center for Christian Leadership, named after his brother, an alumnus of Princeton’s class of 1954 who died tragically at a young age. Inspired by Robert’s faith and love for Jesus, Melrose saw an opportunity to invest in the lives of Princeton students by establishing a center for Christian leadership development. Melrose later endowed the building with a gift of $1 million.
Christian Union founder and CEO Matt Bennett reflected, “Ken Melrose was an extraordinary, wonderful person who loved his family and the cause of Christ at his alma mater, Princeton. I praise God for him and all of us at Christian Union will miss him.”
Melrose’s impact will be felt far beyond the reaches of Christian Union and Princeton University.
While the chairman and CEO of The Toro Company, Melrose garnered respect for his personal care for his staff and his commitment to Christian values. He started a prayer group for employees that attracted 60-70 participants each week and collected prayer requests via e-mail from staff members. He prayed for them regularly, saying that knowing the needs and personal details of his employees kept him humble.
Though Melrose brought the once-struggling Toro company into a place of great financial success, he always had an eye towards giving back. A philanthropist at heart, Melrose has created several scholarship programs including the Kendrick B. Melrose Scholarship Program for dependents of company employees.
When Melrose retired from Toro, he was presented with a framed tribute which stated, “Jesus was his greatest model and became the filter for his leadership decisions,” followed by several quotes from Melrose about Christ-like leadership. This plaque now hangs in the Melrose Center at Princeton University, an ebenezer to God’s faithfulness and the beauty of a life lived in pursuit of Him.