YKK Stories

Fundamental Behavior 1 – Do the Right Thing, Always

June 23, 2021
Author: YKK
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Every time I read or hear YKK’s Fundamental Behavior #1, “Do the Right Thing, Always,” I am drawn back to my college days at my alma matter Georgia Southern University and the story of Coach Erk Russell.  Erk grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and attended Auburn University.  He became a four-sport letterman at Auburn (the last in the college’s history) and soon after graduation began a career as a teacher and football coach.  In 1981 while Erk was the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia (a position he held for 17 years) he was recruited to become the head coach at Georgia Southern.  Erk was being tasked to resurrect a football program that had been dormant for 40 years when it was ended due to the World War II draft.  At the time Erk was one of the most sought-after coaches in the country as he just helped lead Georgia to a National Championship and was seen as Vince Dooley’s successor at the University of Georgia, but for some reason he was drawn to the challenge at Georgia Southern University.

During Coach Russell’s tenure he was labeled as a miracle worker.  During his 8-year run, he won 3 I-AA National Championships, compiled a record of 83-22-1 and coached the first Division 1 college football team to ever go 15-0 in a season.  Based off the performance of Coach Russell and the success of the football team, Georgia Southern University grew from a sleepy college to a university, and the student population exploded from around 6,000 students in 1981  to over 12,000 in 1990 (today it is over 25,000).  When Coach Russell stepped into the small town of Statesboro, Georgia he set in motion a chain of event that led to an unparalleled growth trajectory unseen by most universities in the United States. (It is doubtful that I would have attended Georgia Southern as no one had really ever heard of the school before Erk’s arrival; he literally put the school on the map)!

You are probably asking, “What does this story have to do with YKK’s Fundamental Behaviors?”  Coach Russell’s legacy goes way beyond being a great football coach; He left such a lasting impact on the school and students because of who he was as a person.  Coach Russell was always known for his quotes, but his simplest quote of only two words became the foundation for a football program and a mantra for the culture of the whole university: “Do Right.”  Simple, but so powerful.  Over 40 years after his arrival and 30 years after his departure you still see the message of “Do Right” all over the campus.

To Coach Russell, it was simple: you do right and everything that follows is easy.  I like to view this Fundamental Behavior in the same light.  It is our foundation.  If we start from a base of doing the right thing, all that follows is simple. The power and impact of “Do the Right Thing, Always” or just simply “Do Right” is far reaching and in my mind it is immeasurable.

Chris Carroll
Vice President, Human Resources