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Red Dot founder “Harky” Runnings dies

SEATTLE, Wash. - Harcourt G. "Harky" Runnings, the founder and former chairman of Red Dot Corp. whose generosity an...

SEATTLE, Wash. – Harcourt G. “Harky” Runnings, the founder and former chairman of Red Dot Corp. whose generosity and respect for his employees brought family spirit to the workplace long before it was fashionable, died March 23 in Shelton, Wash., at 92. A memorial service was held April 1.

Runnings founded Red Dot in 1965 after the popularity of the truck heaters he built at his Seattle radiator shop outpaced his ability to produce them. Under his stewardship, Red Dot became a leader in the design and production of heating and air conditioning systems (HVAC) and replacement parts for commercial trucks, buses, agricultural vehicles and construction equipment. Today the company has more than 480 employees at its headquarters in Seattle and additional facilities in Memphis, Tenn., and Ipswich, England.

Runnings’ ingenuity and skill as an industrial designer brought numerous innovations to the mobile HVAC field. They include the Grilldenser; separate climate controls for the sleeper compartment of heavy trucks; the trinary pressure switch; air-operated water valves and vent doors; and low-profile roof-top condensers.

As focused as Runnings was on products that bring comfort to people in demanding jobs, the welfare of his employees was his number one concern.

The company instituted time-and-a-half pay for employees on vacation because Runnings wanted them to have time off without having to go in debt or sacrifice important things in their lives. In the early 1970s, Red Dot went to a four-day workweek so employees would have Fridays to use for personal business, a radical idea at the time.

Upon his retirement in 2000, Runnings sold 100 per cent of Red Dot’s ownership to its employees, fulfilling a promise made when he founded the business. “The best decisions for a company are made by people who want to carry the business forward for themselves,” he said at the time.

At Christmas that year, he and his wife gave Red Dot employees a total of $2.2 million for their support and loyalty over the years.

“Harky believed there should be a greater reward for work than a paycheck,” said Red Dot president Randy Gardiner, Runnings’ grandson. “He wanted his employees to feel important and valued, like family.”

Perhaps it was because his early family life was so tenuous.

Runnings was born in 1912 in Porcupine, Ont., the third of six children. He spent his first years on homesteads in rural Manitoba, but the family was split up in 1919 after his mother died of appendicitis. Runnings’ father dispatched the children to live with relatives, putting them on a train with written instructions pinned to their coats as to their final destinations. Runnings stayed with an aunt and uncle on a farm near Regina, Sask. He slept in the attic and spent his days carrying feed and water to the pigs and chickens. At 14, he reunited with his father and two oldest sisters in Seattle, where he attended school for the first time.

To improve his job prospects during the Depression, Runnings enrolled in a trade school and became a talented machinist. He worked for Boeing during World War II and saved money to buy a service station in West Seattle. Looking to differentiate himself, Runnings specialized in radiator repair because no one else in the neighbourhood offered the service. He opened what has become a Seattle landmark, the West Seattle Radiator Service.

The business thrived, and in the late 1950s Runnings began designing radiators and heaters for Kenworth and Freightliner mail trucks operating in the harsh conditions of the Alaska-Canadian Highway. By the early 1960s, cooling and heating trucks was his principle line of work. In 1965, Red Dot was incorporated.

Runnings leaves two daughters, Gloria Runnings of Seattle and Carolyn Olsen of Shelton, Wash. He had 14 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. Runnings is predeceased by his first wife, Ruby, in 2001, and his second wife, Mary, also in 2001.

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