Here's a sweet story about a boss you won't believe: Bud Kolbrener's former employees were in trouble. So he gave up his life and gave them a gift they could never have imagined.
Bud Kolbrener was enjoying an active retirement. Just 54 years old, he traveled widely and lived well after selling a candy company in St. Louis, Mo. eight years ago for a sweet profit.
But one day he got a call from a couple of longtime employees, Debbie and Marley Otto.
"They needed some help. They needed a place to work," said Kolbrener.
"My unemployment ran out. I think I had knocked on everybody's door in St. Louis," said Otto Marley.
But what could Bud do? He had signed a non-compete clause, agreeing not to go back into the candy business. Still, those out-of-work calls kept coming, so when the agreement expired, he did something unheard of — he gave up his retirement, opened a new store and re-hired all of the old employees who needed work.
"I never in the world expected he would open a company for us," said Marley.
"When someone gives me 20, 30 years of their life, I feel I owe them something other than, 'Oh, it's nice talking to you. Goodbye,' " said Kolbrener.
Dotson: He didn't run away?
"Oh, he ran toward us. We were in trouble and he ran as fast as he could to help us," said Marley.
Bud didn't just give them back their jobs. He's teaching them how to run the business. In a few years, when he retires again, he will give it to them.
"You do what you feel in your heart is right," he said.
A golden parachute for employees?
"I hope that it is a golden parachute. I hope they all get rich," said Kolbrener.
Bud never married and has no children. His six employees are like his family.
"You have to think more than just strictly money," said Kolbrener. "I think that's the sad part of what's going on with our society today. It's strictly a money issue."
But how can Kolbrener and Lake Forest Confections compete with other companies that do follow the bottom line?
"When people have a sense that they're part of the family, they work harder," he said. "The quality of the product is better and the public perception is correct, it is better."
Marley and Debbie have worked side-by-side making chocolates since they were teenagers. Their son-in-law, Bryan, now works with them.
And their grandson, Josh, hopes Lake Forest Confections will grow to include him, too.
"It will be like a family tree," Josh said.
What do Kolbrener's friends at the club say about his decision?
"I think some of them probably think I'm crazy," said Kolbrener. He went back to a tiny office and 80-hour weeks. And each person is equally responsible for the shop — Kolbrener even sweeps up.
Bud may have lost some years of retirement, but he found deep within himself the person he wanted to be.
Lake Forest Confections can be reached online at lakeforestconfections.com or at 314-721-9997.