Inside Track: A life of purpose
Rich Sorota’s gambit of experience with high-profile companies lays foundation for current job as CEO of Ranir.
Having a purpose is important to Rich Sorota, which is why his current role as president and CEO of Ranir is the best of his career.
And that is saying a lot, since Sorota has led an array of businesses, including Old Spice, Philips Sonicare, Scotts Miracle-Gro and Bissell Homecare, and lived all over the country during his long career.
Sorota said over one-third of people are not able to go to a dentist, and if they have limited economic means, that number almost doubles.
“In the U.S., 215 million hours are lost in the classroom or at work each year because of tooth and gum issues,” Sorota said.
Sorota said that is why he is proud to work for Ranir. The company produces products that allow individuals to keep their teeth healthy through daily self-care at home.
“We are providing exceptional quality products that do an amazing job at a great value,” he said.
He said the company believes in its mission of healthy teeth so much that when some of its employees could not afford dental insurance, Ranir decided to foot the bill.
“We decided to ensure every one of our associates had accessibility to dental insurance,” he said.
He said policies like that create a positive work environment and build loyalty.
“We are not only making a difference in our customer and consumers’ lives, but we are making a difference in our associates’ lives. If you walked around, you’d get a sense that they love what they do here.”
Ranir employs approximately 750 people globally, with 500 of those employees located in Grand Rapids where the company has its headquarters, a warehouse and one of its manufacturing facilities.
Sorota has been with Ranir for just under two years, but he already is making his mark as a “growth guy” with the company.
This past year was the company’s best, generating more incremental profit than the previous three years and gaining market share of over 75 percent.
The company also purchased the Rembrandt brand in 2016, an important addition.
Ranir’s Plackers brand, purchased a few years ago, also had a great year, taking share leadership in the flosser category, according to Sorota.
“We had an incredible year, and we are expecting another incredible year this year,” he said.
Sorota said he is very fortunate to have the job he has.
“I get asked a lot for career advice, and I think it’s simple: find something you are deeply passionate about and try to be the best you can,” he said.
He added, “When I don’t view it as a job, I’ve been the most successful.”
He also said having a supportive spouse is important.
“My wife has been instrumental in allowing me to do what I do,” he said.
Sorota grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, and attended college at the University of Vermont, where he double majored in political science and economics.
He landed his first job with GE’s aerospace division in the financial management program. He said the program allowed him to gain exposure in a variety of areas. It also made him realize he didn’t want to become a CFO.
Sorota said he realized he wanted a position that would bring him closer to the customer.
That realization led him to Northwestern University, where he earned his MBA.
During his graduate program, Sorota took an internship at Procter and Gamble, where he worked on the Crest brand. Following graduation, P&G hired him full time, and he began working on the Old Spice brand.
“It was the first male brand P&G ever had,” he said. “It was leveraging the P&G assets but building a new business. It was a lot of fun, and I was promoted quickly to the Pert Plus brand, which was the biggest beauty care business.”
He said his biggest opportunity at P&G came when he became brand manager for the Max Factor brand — his first brand manager assignment.
“If I could market and sell cosmetics, I thought I could do anything,” he said.
Sorota counts his time with Max Factor as his favorite role with P&G.
After a few more years, Sorota was ready for a new opportunity, so he wrote the CEO of Norelco, which was the North American sales and marketing division of Philips domestic appliance and personal care group out of the Netherlands, about joining that company.
He said Norelco was looking for someone who could bring forward momentum back to the brand. It also was looking to bring the Philips brand into the United States and wanted to become more relevant to women.
Sorota said his previous experience at P&G was a perfect match, and he became the VP of marketing for Norelco USA, followed by a promotion shortly after to SVP of North American marketing for Philips and Norelco.
Philips acquired Sonicare and dispatched Sorota to Seattle to lead the Sonicare commercial operation.
He faced a crossroads after four years, with his next big opportunity at Philips involving a move to the Netherlands. Sorota said he and his wife were building their family and decided the timing wasn’t right for such a big of a move.
Instead, Sorota joined Scotts Miracle-Gro.
He said while at Scotts, he worked on the company’s two largest initiatives, followed by an assignment with the company’s lawns business, consisting of its Scotts and Ortho brands, leading commercial operations in the United States.
Sorota next took on the role of president of the consumer division of Harmon, a position that offered him new challenges he’d been eager to face.
“I went there and put a growth vision together — right before the market crashed,” he said.
The crash resulted in layoffs at Harmon, and Sorota was one of the casualties.
Not ready to dive into another company, Sorota took on a consulting role with the U.S. Postal Service.
“I had a call from my former boss from Scotts who was the president of the Postal Service. He wanted me to help figure out if we could get the postal service growing again.
Sorota said while at the Postal Service, he led the initiative to transition all stamps to Forever Stamps.
“I couldn’t understand why all stamps weren’t forever stamps,” he said.
As he was wrapping up his consulting work, Sorota got a call from Bissell in Grand Rapids.
“I liked the Bissell values and thought I could help a family business grow,” he said.
Following his stint at Bissell, Sorota joined private equity firm American Capital, where he was responsible for helping the firm’s underperforming companies grow.
“I loved the work, but I was traveling constantly,” he said.
Therefore, when Ranir came knocking, he was ready for a new opportunity.
Sorota said his roles with GE, P&G and Philips served as the perfect foundation for what Ranir was searching for in its next leader. He had the classic business skills as well as experience in more entrepreneurial brand environments.
He said his global experience combined with his growth-oriented background and his work with Sonicare and at P&G, specifically, impressed Ranir.
Two years in, Sorota said, “I’ve never enjoyed a job more.”
He added, “As I’ve gained more grey hairs, I’ve realized I want to make a difference. Purpose matters.”
He also is enjoying the West Michigan community. Both he and his wife have become active in East Grand Rapids, where they live and their kids go to school.
“I’m thrilled to be raising our kids in Grand Rapids,” he said. “Having lived in so many different places, we are proud to be here.”