Life of a Salesman

The extraordinary story of the extraordinary partnership that built the Jack and Ann Rhodes Professional Sales Program into one of the nation’s best

Jack Rhodes (BA 1961) is a master storyteller, able to spin a cracking yarn on nearly any topic. He draws from a deep well of crystalline memories and a vast neural network of personal relationships he’s cultivated across his 80-something eventful, impactful years on this Earth. And when he tells a tale, he commits his entire body to it, bends his rich baritone to paint the scene and embody the characters, and delivers the goods with the timing of a great comic—and a booming, anticipatory laugh.

“When Jack tells a story,” says entrepreneur and author Jeff Lehman, one of his legions of friends, “it is worth listening to.”

New program director Barry Erickson knows the power of an entertaining Jack Rhodes story.

And it’s fair to say that the entire story of his life is etched into the Jack and Ann Rhodes Professional Sales Program at the UW Foster School of Business. It’s an anthology, really, encompassing myriad instructive anecdotes and punchlines-with-a-message.

But this story of stories doesn’t begin with a transformational gift from a couple of dyed-in-the-fur Huskies to their beloved alma mater. Or with the fostering of one of the nation’s first and finest sales programs. Or with the successful family business that punctuated a long and winding career in sales and marketing. Or even with the classroom connection of two UW undergrads who would forge an unbreakable partnership over a lifelong love affair.

The story really begins ten years earlier, in the shadow of Husky Stadium, circa 1948.

Type H blood

John Henry Rhodes may not have been a Husky from birth, but he was an early convert. An only child raised in a modest studio apartment on 45th Street in Wallingford, he ventured often—through forest, in those days—to the UW campus. Greek Row, the Burke Museum, Hec Ed and, especially, Husky Stadium were places of magic and myth to his young mind.

UW Campus in the late 1940s (James Sneddon Photo from the UW Libraries Special Collections).

From age 10, Jack hawked game-day newspapers outside the stadium to afford a cheap seat in the bleachers so he could watch the Dawgs do gridiron battle. He was hooked.

“I call it type H blood,’’ he says, noting the H is for Husky. “Campus was an exciting place to be as a kid.”

Newspapers weren’t the end of it, either. Jack was always selling. Lemonade stands. Rummage sales. Sponsorship of the neighborhood baseball team. You name it. “From a very early age, I always sold something,” Jack recalls. “It was kind of a gravitational thing that I enjoyed doing.”

Jack and Ann in their undergrad days at the UW.

When his father fell ill to chronic liver disease, he began working in earnest to support the family. He got a job at Longacres Racetrack when he was a ninth-grader and worked through his years at Roosevelt High School, updating the manual tote board and serving the press room, earning extra cash fetching sandwiches for famished reporters.

Jack’s first “official” sales job was in the men’s department at the Roosevelt Sears, which put him through the UW. His boss encouraged him to study marketing. But the one sales class on offer at the UW left the biggest mark.

It wasn’t the only value he found in a business classroom.

A perfect match

Ann Loken (BA 1961) was born into a family of Huskies who owned and operated a successful hardware store in Everett. Ann was big-hearted and a crackerjack student at the UW, marshaling a military sense of discipline, a massive intellect and bold ambition. Advised to go into teaching, she instead studied business.

One day in class, she met Jack Rhodes. They hit it off straight away. And Jack was a better man for the connection. “I like to say that I was a 2.0 student when I met her, and a 3.0 student when we got married,” he quips.

Newlyweds Ann and Jack began their long and winding road together at the US Army Quartermaster Training School in Fort Lee, VA.

He got serious about his studies and rose to leadership positions in the pep-group Sun Dodgers and in Army ROTC.

By the time Jack and Ann were married in 1961, Jack was already stationed at the Army Quartermaster Training School in Fort Lee, Virginia, where he got his first taste of teaching. After two years on active duty, he began seeking work in sales back in Seattle.

Traveling sales

Jack’s first breaks came at Westinghouse, selling portable appliances to the military, then Allstate, then Xerox, where he eventually rose to sales manager.

Ann had a considerably tougher launch. Fascinated by the stock market and hugely capable, she got her foot in the door as a receptionist at Merrill Lynch. When she was denied the chance to earn her broker’s license through the firm, she did it on her own time and her own dime. Even then, she was trusted only with routine overflow work rather than her own clients.

When Jack’s career took off, she took off with him. “They were a great team,” recalls Karen Koon, Ann’s sorority sister. “That’s the way their whole life went, too.”

Xerox took the Rhodes from Seattle to New York to Chicago. In the early 1970s, they moved to Massachusetts when Jack became director of marketing for a division of Avery, and Southern California when he became vice president of two Times Mirror subsidiaries. “I’m the guy who couldn’t keep a job,” he jokes.

Business partnership

In 1981, Jack and Ann decided it was time to hang their shingle together. Jack had plenty of experience and connections. And Ann was itching to get back in the game.

Together they launched Rhodes & Co., a sales and marketing firm based in Southern California and serving blue-chip companies across the western United States. The venture was a partnership in every sense of the word, with Jack running the sales side while Ann handled operations.

Jack and Ann returned to the Pacific Northwest to “round it out,” but went right back to work.

Rhodes & Co. was a huge success. And, after 18 years in business, they sold it to their employees and moved back to Seattle. Home at last.

“We decided that Seattle was where we were going to ‘round it out,’ so to speak,” Jack says.

But neither was ready to be retired.

Back to school

Jack plugged back into Husky Athletics, eventually becoming chair of the Tyee Club and receiving the Frank Orrico Award (for outstanding dedication, commitment and generosity to UW Athletics) in 2005. He became an advisor to UW Army ROTC and was inducted into the inaugural National ROTC Hall of Fame in 2016.

But the Foster School is where both Jack and Ann really found a new mission.

It happened that the very man who had hired Jack at Xerox 30 years earlier, Bill McKinley, was teaching a sales class at the UW. That class had roots in a side project that he and Jack had co-founded back in their Xerox days to take the company’s famed sales training program to the broader marketplace. And McKinley, a past-president of the Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce, was as well-connected as Jack.

“When I moved back, Bill said, ‘Why don’t we teach a class together like we used to?’” Jack recalls.

They did just that. Soon, Jack developed a sales management class. And the embryo of a program was formed.

Unfortunately, McKinley died soon after their reunion. But Jack kept building upon the foundation.

Humble beginnings

The Professional Sales Program counted barely a dozen students in its first year.

But Jack converted his expansive personal network—carefully cultivated over a lifetime—into an army of vested mentors, advisors and employers to ramp up the program. He introduced a required practicum, facilitated mentorships and honed a curriculum that hewed to the practical over theoretical.

An unbreakable partnership and a lifelong love affair.

And, perhaps most significantly, he made sure the program was as much of a partnership as everything else in his life. Jack, once again, handled the front office while Ann managed operations.

“Ann was really running everything behind the scenes,” says Khynna Ausink (BA 2009), who worked in the Sales Program office before embarking on a successful career at Sun Life Financial. “She was more involved than most people would ever know.”

Old school

If Jack has been the face of the program all these years, he’s certainly made an indelible impression.

“Alumni like to talk about that special faculty member who changed their lives,” says Steven Hatting, the Foster School’s associate dean for advancement. “For so many Huskies over the last two decades, that has been Jack. When we send him prospective students, he makes their parents wish they could sign up for the Sales Program themselves! His love and joy for education is so authentic. It’s infectious.”

Former students describe Jack as “meticulous” and “tough,” but also “wise,” “caring” and “relatable.” “A coach.” “A connector.”

“Another word I’d use to describe him is ‘present,’” says Maddy Graves, a senior at Foster who landed a dream internship at the Seattle Mariners through the program. “Jack is a great listener, and deeply focused on how he can help you succeed.”

Most of all, students call him “old-school,” in the best way. Jack still presents himself daily in a business suit, an impeccable beacon of professionalism amid a sea of campus casual.

Not that he is an anachronism. Far from it. His guidance has remained at the vanguard of sales strategy, which has shifted seismically in his lifetime from communication to consultancy. “Jack has always taught young people real-life skills they need to be successful in the world today,” says Pat Chestnut, the president and CEO of AristaPoint and longtime advisor to the program. “He understands how to adapt to the changing sales landscape and how to help people adapt.”

Jack Rhodes with some young fans: members and leadership of the Husky Sales Club.

But some of his most resounding messages—the ones perhaps most unfamiliar to children of the Internet—are enduring. The rubric of selling, for instance. The importance of eye contact. The power of a handwritten note. The imperative of personal relationships.

“Those things never go out of style,” says Kylie Nelson (BA 2010), who leveraged the program into her early career in sales at iHeartRadio. “Jack is always minding every detail, emphasizing interaction, thinking about how to appreciate people. This is why so many support the program.”

And why it thrives.

Why they serve

The program that Jack and Ann built is a model for the nation, perennially ranked in the top 10. It serves more than 160 students from business and many other fields of study across the UW. They win championships—including three National Team Selling Competitions since 2012. And they land great jobs. The program’s placement rate has remained north of 96 percent for several years running.

“Our students,” Jack notes, “are walking out into the marketplace equipped with skills that make them very productive right away in high-demand jobs that they really enjoy.”

That was always the ultimate motivation for Ann and Jack, who likes to say the students have been the “highlight of our twilight.”

“Not by design, Ann and I never had children,” he explains. “So being able to help guide young people and see them mature and develop as professionals and as people… It’s not like raising them from birth. But it’s a big deal.”

A living legacy

They’ve certainly given more than they got. And they keep giving. Jack and Ann dedicated the past 20 years to creating a life-changing positive feedback loop at the UW, a contribution so profound that it inspired the UW Board of Regents in October to officially name the Jack and Ann Rhodes Professional Sales Program. Now they have created an endowment to secure its perpetuity at the Foster School.

Dean Frank Hodge made the official announcement of the Jack and Ann Professional Sales Program in October.

“Jack and Ann built an incredible pathway,” says Steven Hatting. “And now their generosity will help ensure the program’s impact for generations to come.”

Sadly, Ann passed away in 2015. And though Jack turned over day-to-day management to capable new director Barry Erickson (BA 1986)—aka Captain Husky (Emeritus)—earlier this year, he continues to pour his wisdom and energy and stories and lessons and relationships into the program.

“They built something to last.”

The network is vast and getting vaster, reinforced by each year’s graduating class—now 1,500-plus alumni—who have leveraged their best-in-class professional sales training into a spectacular array of careers, and feel inspired to repay the personal connections they received while they were students in the program at Foster. To stay in touch. To get involved. To give back. That’s perhaps the greatest legacy of all.

“I keep coming back to the UW and Foster—and I plan on doing so for the rest of my life—because of the example that Jack and Ann Rhodes set,” says former Sales Club president Alex Kremer (BA 2014), now a sales team manager at Outreach. “They represent what it means to be a Husky.”

“I don’t think you’ll find two finer human beings—who care deeply about people and the impact they’re making—than Jack and Ann Rhodes,” adds Pat Chestnut. “They built something to last, and that’s a rare thing these days.”

Have Jack and Ann Rhodes impacted your life and career? You can contribute to the Jack and Ann Rhodes Sales Program Fund online at giving.uw.edu/Rhodes or by calling Sean Moore at 206-616-3860.