Alumni Spotlight: Richard Karls
By: Denise Thornton | Photo Contributed By: The Karls Family
The executive team at General Beverage, circa 1970. Karls appears on the far left. Laurence Weinstein is second from the right in the top row. Dan Weinstein, Laurence’s son and current president of General Beverage, is second from the right in the bottom row, next to the GB sign.
When Richard "Dick" Karls enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison more than 50 years ago, he was a frightened 19-year-old without a plan. He had grown up above his family's hardware store on Williamson Street in Madison, but the business was sold after the death of his father.
"As a teenager, I expected to run that hardware store one day," says Karls. Instead, he followed the advice of the attorney who handled his father's estate and enrolled in college. He didn't know that his childhood experience in the store would help guide him through the Wisconsin School of Business, but it taught him the value of networking.
"When you needed to get something done, you could usually find a lot of craftsmen in the hardware store," he recalls. "They would share their knowledge, and that's how a lot of problems got solved."
"I've never stopped learning."
— DICK KARLS (BBA '64, MBA '69)
Karls earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1964 and soon passed the CPA exam. After starting out as a reluctant student, he decided to pursue an MBA.
"I hadn't taken my studies seriously in high school, but they admitted me to the School on probation and let me know I'd better buckle down," he says. "It was intimidating, going to school with such good students. I had to learn to study better."
Karls was one of only three students in the program with a full-time job. Still, he decided to take the leap.
"I was married with a mortgage and two kids, and at that time UW–Madison's MBA program did not combine education with work," he remembers.
Professor Jim Bower warned him that not many students had succeeded in completing the master's program while working full time.
"You'll be lucky to make it through," Bower told him. "But the harder you work, the luckier you will be."
His professor was right. After completing his MBA, he secured a position with General Beverage Sales under co-owner Laurence Weinstein.
Under Weinstein's tutelage, Karls learned not only to create budgets, but to enforce them. He also applied lessons from his risk management class.
"We connected with the UW–Madison professor in charge of insurance in the late 1970s and asked his graduate class to analyze our risks," he says. "The students rode on our beverage trucks and observed the warehouse. They wrote a valuable summary report, and we made a donation to the School on behalf of the class. Learning on the job is a big part of education."
"I've been chief financial officer for more than half of General Beverage's 80-some years of existence," says Karls, "and during its tremendous growth, I've had the opportunity to participate in numerous acquisitions. I've never stopped learning."