Lonnie Rogers '60 July 29, 2022 11:20 AM updated: August 4, 2022 9:09 AM
Lonnie Carroll Rogers
September 12, 1938 - July 8, 2022
Lonnie Carroll Rogers
“Think big, and we’ll become big.”
The amazing, spontaneous, and charismatic life of Lonnie Carroll Rogers ended on Tuesday, July 5 at his home in Missoula, Montana.
Lonnie was born in 1938 in San Antonio, Texas.
He attended Texas A&M and graduated from Howard Payne University with a degree in Theology and English. For a time, he served as a minister of a Baptist Church.
Lonnie married and had two daughters, Lani Carroll Rogers and Joelle Marie Rogers. He was a US Marine from 1960-1970, flying helicopters in 350 combat missions in Vietnam.
Lonnie Rogers reinvented himself regularly with stunning success. He became a successful real estate professional and president of Marco Beach Realty, Inc. Later, he acquired Ideal Aerosmith and led the company to become a force in the motion simulation industry.
Strong relationships and seized business opportunities helped to build the “larger than life” narrative of Lonnie’s life. His courage, skill, and sacrifice in the service of his country set the stage for his many varied and successful business ventures. Everywhere he lived, people loved and admired him, and he reveled in forming strong relationships and creating success.
Rogers moved to East Grand Forks and served as Ideal Aerosmith’s vice president of operations. He was involved with many of the company’s business dealings and also helped with sales. After a time, Rogers’ entrepreneurial spirit took him back to Florida and even to the oil fields of Oklahoma. But he kept a position with Ideal Aerosmith even as he applied his business instincts to other businesses.
Meanwhile, his partner did what he could to manage the day-to-day affairs of Ideal Aerosmith. Unfortunately, business took a turn for the worse, and by the early 1990s, the company had slid into financial disarray. His partner relinquished all of the company’s stock to Rogers.
Rogers had begun drilling some oil and gas wells in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area and met the Owens family while there. The Owenses recognized the potential Ideal Aerosmith held and agreed to become partners as the company started its journey with new leadership.
Energized by the vote of confidence and the opportunity to rebuild Ideal Aerosmith, Rogers returned to East Grand Forks with renewed determination. “When you’re in the Marines, you learn to do more than you thought you could,” Rogers says. “As a pilot, there were situations that we flew in where I convinced myself that I could do something, did it, then noticed unsteady knees after we were back on the ground. At Ideal Aerosmith I was so intent on Ideal and its people being successful that all of us were able to share in that energy together.” Unfortunately for Rogers, there were few employees left at the Ideal Aerosmith plant to build existing orders. “Everyone pitched in,” he recalls fondly. “We all worked hard to make it happen. We even had some former employees volunteer their time to help us out. I remember working with Kevin Otto testing connections at 2 a.m. But we got it done.”
For a company that was fighting for survival, every sale was important. “Every time we’d make a deal, we’d celebrate. We’d make a sale, and then we’d order pizza,” he laughs.
A turning point came when Rogers made a sales call to Honeywell in Phoenix, Arizona, to sell a testing table. When he arrived, he got the unfortunate news that Honeywell didn’t need any testing tables. The wheels in Rogers’ head began to turn. “I sat back in the meeting and just asked them if there was anything else we could do for them – even if we had to learn how to do it. The Honeywell manager looked at me and said ‘y’know, there might be.’ They asked if we could put together a certain cable assembly for them, and I agreed, even though we had never done it before.”
His positive outlook began to energize the company, and before long things started to look up. “Think big, and we’ll become big. That’s what I always tried to instill,” says Rogers. It was a mantra that paid dividends, and the spirit of innovation soon spilled out of the meeting room and onto the manufacturing floor.
“One of our old tables had been made the same way for many, many years. The controls only allowed for a few speed settings,” he recalls. “I suggested a variable speed knob and our engineers thought I was nuts. ‘Nobody will buy it!’ they said. But not only did it end up increasing sales, it actually required fewer hours to produce while providing an exceptional value to our customers. When we thought creatively, it paid off!”
As Ideal Aerosmith began to turn around, Rogers noticed that many of their customers turned to other manufacturers for add-ons or other parts. In what might be his most important management decision, Rogers insisted that Ideal Aerosmith develop a “turnkey” solution for their customers, along with a relationship-based sales and service strategy that encouraged collaboration rather than competition. The results have been easy to see.
“We’ve grown our market share, thanks to our philosophy of working with customers rather than simply selling them a product,” he explains. “We’ve set a new standard of service for this industry, and that has been a big part of our success.”
From the late 1990s through the early part of the 2010s, Rogers and the team at Ideal Aerosmith (including George Owens’ son Greg) didn’t just free the organization from its financial turmoil, they achieved incredible growth by investing in big ideas and great people. The result is a company with new product offerings, new target markets (including the oil industry) and new facilities, as well as a prominent role in the world of motion simulation and testing. In 2013, Rogers turned 75 – the same age as the company that he worked so hard to rejuvenate. It is fitting, then, that both Rogers and Ideal Aerosmith look to the future together. “We’re going to keep growing,” Rogers said, matter-of-factly. “This company is just going to keep getting bigger and better. I am extremely pleased that Ideal is able to attract such great and responsible people to the company.”
Rogers servesd as the chairman of Ideal Aerosmith’s board of directors after bowing out of the day-to-day operations of the company. He likened himself to a cheerleader, offering encouragement and advice – “in the rare circumstance needed.” “I’m glad to have been a part of this success story,” he said humbly.
In retirement, Lonnie Rogers spent part of each year in Missoula, Montana, with a group of veterans who shared his love of fly fishing. He admitted that it is not a sport that he has mastered. But as he describes his new hobby, his eyes sparkle with the same spirit that made his work with Ideal Aerosmith so important – and one wonders if the trout in Montana stand any chance at all.