Greg Ruthven: A Legacy Built on a
By RJ Walters
Photography by MadI Elizabeth
Developed in partnership with The Ruthvens
When an EF2 tornado tore through a section of North Lakeland in 2019, Brandon Clark, President of The Ruthvens, was tied up assessing damage to some of the company’s warehouses, filing insurance claims and sifting through the processes demanded when unexpected disasters strike.
Meanwhile, Chairman and CEO Greg Ruthven, became laser focused on the aftermath at one massive tilt wall concrete warehouse that was nearly 40 percent obliterated. The Ruthvens had two tenants in the facility, and Greg was determined to get them back up to speed as quickly as possible.
“It’s like 5 or 6 in the morning the day after the tornado and Greg is on the phone with their real estate guys…and he was like, ‘I’ve got this.’”
The tornado struck Lakeland late on a Friday night, and by Tuesday, The Ruthvens had their tenants moved to a fully equipped 90,000 square foot warehouse in a nearby proximity.
As the 66-year-old Greg Ruthven, who has worked at the family business since 1984, will tell you, “If the customer wins, we win.”
“If the customer wins, we win.” – Greg Ruthven
By most accounts, The Ruthvens have done a lot of winning since Greg’s father Joe. P Ruthven founded the company in 1957—and for the last 40 years, Greg has been an instrumental part of that.
When he first came on board as “head maintenance man,” The Ruthvens owned roughly 1 million square feet of warehouse space. Today, the company that is well recognized for its can’t miss large signs with its royal green logo, owns and manages 93 warehouses and offers more than 5 million square feet of space to meet the needs of a variety of clients.
The footnotes of Greg’s story all these years later are just as interesting as the awards and long-term success he has attained.
Fresh out of college, with a degree from Florida State University, he was ready to move to Lakeland and marry his sweetheart Kim, with the sure foundation of the family business.
Greg recalls setting up a meeting with his father one Monday morning to put it all into motion.
“We sat in his office…I gave him the application, we talked for about five minutes and he asked me what I wanted, where my future was, where I was going, etc,” Greg says. “And then he said, ‘Well, I’m not going to hire you.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘No, I want you to get some sales experience somewhere else.’”
As a young salesman he made—and admittedly lost—a lot of money in beach side real estate, and he sold computers for about two years.
At that point, Joe P. was ready to entrust his son with a vital role in the business.
Clark, who is married to Greg’s daughter Lauren, and has been with The Ruthvens since 2018—and has served as President since 2021—said the story of a tennis ball hanging from Greg’s office ceiling years ago is illustrative of Greg’s impact on the trajectory of the business.
When Greg came on board, The Ruthvens owned warehouses, but also owned a host of restaurants and retail shops along Memorial Blvd. and had a smattering of apartments and mobile homes communities as well.
“I decided we couldn’t do [it all], and I told dad, ‘We need to stick to warehousing,’ and that’s what we did…even though at the time nobody was building warehouses,” he says. “We are at the center of the state, along I-75 and US-27, and it just seemed to me the best place.”
At that time, Greg hung a tennis ball with a big “W” on it from his ceiling, as a reminder to always keep his eye on the ball, or in this case, the warehouse industry.
Greg chuckles when thinking back to paying $14.02 for impact fees on a new development or it only taking a “week instead of six months” for permits to process, but his philosophy for winning in business has remained largely unchanged.
He and his father, and staff today, find great joy in helping businesses get their start with a smaller warehouse footprint of maybe 10,000 square feet, and then ideally helping them find the connections and resources needed to grow into businesses that need 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 square feet of space.
An example would be Omnia, a company that made cotton balls and other cotton related products for Publix. They were in four different warehouses over the course of nearly 40 years, before finally selling the company in 2023.
One of Ruthven’s longtime friends, Weymon Snuggs, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Citizens Bank & Trust, said a distinctive characteristic of Greg is his deeply caring approach to business.
“He was always wanting to try to help people that were renting from him, and he wasn’t just a landlord,” he says. “The thing about Greg and his family is they care about the community and the city owes a lot of its economic development and growth over the last 20 to 30 years to The Ruthvens.”
It’s no accident that Greg would often take Christmas gifts to tenants or have surprise ice cream truck socials with them, where staff could enjoy a free treat while he checked in.
Longtime Lakeland businessman and former Lakeland Mayor Howard Wiggs said part of what makes Greg great is he knows how to listen well and ask inquisitive questions.
“He really listens to what you want to do and what you want to accomplish and will come back with challenging questions about how something is going to actually help you achieve that,” he says. “And he really gives wise counsel; if you were to take a poll in the Lakeland community…and get people to raise their hand if they had received wise counsel from Greg Ruthven, you would see a lot of hands go up.”
It makes sense that Wiggs says that, since Ruthven was his campaign manager for nearly 25 years, and Ruthven was president of the local rotary club and served on a host of impactful boards in Lakeland over the years.
Greg Ruthvens will tell you he’s been blessed, he has learned from the likes of his family and George Jenkins and other entrepreneurs over the years; he’ll also tell you that his son-in-law is “10 times better” than him at working with office staff.
The appreciation and love from Clark is mutual.
“Greg’s mark on Lakeland is significant,” Clark says, “He’s a generational leader for our family, company and community, and he has a lot to be proud of. Our job is to build on his legacy in the decades to come.”
Greg knows he’s played a role in building something great that has endured several recessions, but it gives him more pleasure to let someone else share what the family name means than to tell you himself.
When he and other staff were at a private brokers lunch in Central Florida, a broker asked Greg’s cousin Matt, Vice President of Leasing, if he realized about the power of “The Ruthven Effect.”
“The broker says, ‘When we’re representing a property owner and they’ve got a 100,000 square foot building to lease, we tell them that if y’all get it we are never going to see that tenant again because you take care of your tenants.”
As Greg said recently, sitting in a historic office along Lake Morton that his dad once occupied in the 1970s: “When you’ve got a win-win philosophy, it goes a long way.”