Kent Greenawalt

Kent Steven Greenawalt was born December 1, 1952, in Dubuque, Iowa, the only child of Jean Audrey Cross and Monte H. Greenawalt. The couple had married in 1950. 

Jean was born in 1920 and Monte in 1923, both Dubuque natives. Jean worked at the Pentagon during World War II in the purchasing department. Monte, like other brave men of his era, enlisted to serve in the Navy after the horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor. In his preparing to deploy, a tainted batch of vaccinations left Monte paralyzed. He was forced to live inside an iron lung for six months. As Dr. Monte would tell his son later, I prayed that I would die, but that didn’t work. So, I prayed that whatever would make me better, I would devote my life to it.   His mother finally said “enough” to her son’s situation. “We are going to try a Chiropractor.”  Monte was carried in. With help, he walked out. Monte’s path was now clear, and by 1948, he had earned his degree from Lincoln Chiropractic College in Indianapolis.

Kent attended Marshall Elementary School, Jefferson Junior High and the newly opened Hempstead High School, a member of its first graduating class in June 1971. By seven, Kent was helping at the family’s then-small company, located in a garage, assembling “casting kit” boxes, which were used to create molds of patients’ feet.  Kent was always an entrepreneur, shoveling snow and mowing lawns. In high school, he started a car waxing business. The business grew quickly, thanks to its free pick-up and delivery service, and some savvy marketing.  Kent’s strategy was simple: look for executives who wanted a clean car but didn’t have time to take care of it. At Dubuque Packing Company, one of the city’s largest employers, a young and persuasive Kent talked his way into a board meeting.  Not only did he earn the right to offer his service to plant employees, but every single member of the board also signed on.

While at Hempstead, Kent became a participant in Junior Achievement, a decision that would help to mold his future success and lead him to his first “real” job—as a home appliance salesman at Sears. After organizing a successful carwash fundraiser for J.A. outside the local Sears store, Kent approached his contact for a job.  He was just 17, the first high school student to ever work in the all-adult, highly competitive, and commission-based sales department. Soon he was outselling more seasoned adults; needless to say, he wasn’t winning any popularity contests among his colleagues. Kent was also busy honing his speaking skills through the J.A.  Speakers Corps, sponsored by the Dubuque Toastmasters Club, where he was dubbed “Mr. J.A.” His hard work and commitment led to being elected President three years in a row of the student-run enterprises. He was also and President of the Achiever’s Association, the equivalent of the J.A. Chamber of Commerce.  Kent earned the distinction of representing Dubuque at the National Junior Achiever Conference in Indianapolis, where his company was one of the top ten in the nation.  In addition, in a J.A. sales competition, he won best salesman at the local level; again, he won it at the regional level; and nationally, he won second place out of 156,000 competitors.

After high school, Kent attended business school at the University of Iowa pursuing a double major in Marketing and Finance. As head resident of his dorm, earning free rent and a small stipend. To cover the rest of his education expenses, he launched Kent’s Midnight Stereo, his latest business venture, from his dorm room. Drawing from the lessons he learned in J.A.; Kent struck a number of savvy deals with stereo wholesalers.  His “advertising” was minimal, but effective word of mouth and a bed sheet painted with “Kent’s Midnight Stereo Saves You a Ton” hung inside the campus rotunda. Orders poured in, and soon the loading dock of the dorm was jammed with giant stereo boxes.

Stereo retailers in town complained about Kent’s Midnight Stereo.  One stereo retailer sent an angry letter to the college—they did not like losing market share—and Kent soon found himself sitting face-to-face with a flustered administrator, faced with expulsion for running a business on university property. By the time the meeting ended, Kent had the administrator’s OK to continue his studies and his business—after all, Kent would graduate in a few months and the problem—meaning Kent—would go away.  And it wasn’t long before Kent had talked the gentleman into a brand-new stereo for himself.

Toward the end of Kent’s college career, he wrote his father a letter.  I want to join the family business, it said, but I would be totally useless to you unless I get some real-world business experience under my belt. He set his sights at R. H. Macy in Kansas City. The Macy’s recruiter was coming to campus, but all the interview slots were taken. Kent found out the recruiter’s name, called every hotel in town until he found her, and asked if he could meet her for a cup of coffee.  It worked Kent was her first interview at University of Iowa and he got the job. He spent a year as Department Manager over China, gifts and housewares and then three years working as Macy’s Men’s Suit Buyer.  Later he joined Connecticut General Life Insurance selling coverage for private and corporate businesses. He enjoyed putting together buy/sell agreements and stock purchase agreements between closely held businesses and establishing ESOPs for privately held companies. In 1979 he married, moved back to Dubuque, and began his adult career at Foot Levelers.  In 1981 Jamie was born. In 1987, his second daughter, Kelsey, arrived.

Meanwhile in Dubuque, demand for Foot Levelers’ custom-made orthotics was growing. Kent’s father, Dr. Monte, had purchased a dairy building and moved Foot Levelers out of the old garage. As was his dream, Kent was working at Foot Levelers, and he started at ground level, learning the businesses from the bottom up. Yet Kent steadily took on more responsibility, modernizing and systematizing company operations.  He developed an H.R. handbook, budget, systems and procedures for daily operations, and computerized records and order systems. A major factor in Foot Levelers’ growth was Kent’s work in establishing an Education Division. Speakers were recruited to cover topics like radiology, orthopedics, biomechanics, and sports injuries. Through partnerships with colleges, Chiropractors could earn continuing education credits while learning about the role orthotics played in injury prevention and treatment, and in improving biomechanics and overall wellness. Today Foot Levelers’ Education Department holds over 200 events a year.

By the early 80s, Foot Levelers were outgrowing the dairy, and the time was right to expand. Now company President, Kent launched a ten state, 100-city search. He created an exhaustive checklist of what to evaluate in a new city home—potential workforce, unemployment versus underemployment, tax rates, crime rates—the standard statistics an executive examines when starting a new business. Kent went further. He scrutinized SAT scores; looked at the number of churches; checked out the airports; counted the number of bowling allies and other recreation opportunities; he interviewed locals when he came to town. Out of 100 cities spread across 10 states in the running, Roanoke won. Plans were made for the big move. Kent and his staff initially put in many 18–20-hour days to get ready to produce the first custom orthotics in Roanoke, and the effort paid off. The first day of business was January 4, 1988.  Foot Levelers has been growing ever since, with customers in over 73 countries and counting.  In Kent’s words, he wants to “bring the world to Roanoke.”

Philanthropy is an important part of Kent’s life and of the Foot Levelers’ mission. Under Kent’s leadership, Foot Levelers has built libraries, student centers and cafeterias for Chiropractic colleges, in addition to endowing Chiropractic research, scholarships and faculty chairs. Two of this country’s bleakest moments spurred Kent to create a challenge among his Chiropractic network, pledging to match up $200,000 to aid 9/11 families and relief efforts. The results were fantastic! Not only was the gift matched; it topped out at $600,000. Again in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Kent put out the same challenge, again raising close to $600,000 toward relief efforts. In 2016, Foot Levelers donated over $75,000 worth of shoes to victims of the massive wildfires in Canada and to the flood victims of Greenbrier County, West Virginia.

Locally, Kent has served on the boards of the Roanoke Symphony, Mill Mountain Zoo, the Taubman Museum of Art and Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia and is an active philanthropist in the Roanoke region. He has also served on the advisory board of St. Francis of Assisi and is a generous supporter of the SPCA, 4H Club and other worthy organizations. The adage that shape Kent’s philanthropic mindset is “you can’t give yourself into poverty.”

Kent and his wife Boska have partnered with three other couples to endow a conservation fund in Tanzania, Africa. The fund promotes anti-poaching practices, environmental preservation, clean water initiatives and job growth.  An early initiative was educating locals on the rewards of not poaching and setting up a nature refuge for animals.  The fund also underwrites job skill training in hospitality, spa services, culinary arts, animals and environmental conservation and more. All these initiatives are leading to greater prosperity in the area.

Kent is passionate about the benefits of Chiropractic care. To that end, he created The Foundation for Chiropractic Progress in 2003, a not-for-profit organization which “educates the public about chiropractic care through POSITIVE PRESS.” When clinical studies come out that speak to Chiropractic’s benefits, the Foundation’s Public Relations team makes sure it gets into the right media hands.  They also distribute real-life Chiropractic success stories, including endorsements from major celebrities like NFL Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice.  Last year alone, the foundation’s efforts have resulted in over 31 billion positive impressions in media impressions in the likes of Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and countless others.

Along Kent’s business journey he has shaken hands with heads of state, elected officials, and top executives.  He has also earned several awards and accolades recognizing his philanthropy and contributions to the Chiropractic profession. To name a few: the Lifetime Philanthropy Award from Parker College of Chiropractic, Dynamic Chiropractic magazine’s “Person of the Year,” the American Chiropractic Association’s Humanitarian of the Year award, the highest honor the organization can bestow upon a non-Chiropractor, the American Chiropractic Association’s President’s Award, Northwestern Health Sciences University’s “Brilliant Star” award, and the World Federation of Chiropractic’s Honor Award, and the Institute for Healthcare Consumerism’s CEO Leadership Award. (And the list goes on). Kent takes business inspiration from luminaries like Jack Welch and Ram Charan, who is also a friend, among others. He is an avid reader and student of business and the world—every day is an opportunity for growth.

The future for Kent and Foot Levelers is bright, and he has no intention of slowing down.  Today the company serves healthcare providers in over 73 countries, with satellite offices in Canada and Australia. Kent also sees a greater presence in Europe and Asia, where plans for more satellite offices are already underway. 3D and digital technology are playing a growing role in new products, from “smart” orthotics to new ventures entirely.  And while “Foot Levelers” is a household name in the world Chiropractors, having served tens of thousands of doctors and millions of patients, Kent wants to see his products help as many people as possible, in the Chiropractic realm and beyond.  Foot Levelers and its subsidiary companies have a growing presence in Physical Therapy, podiatry, family medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture, and plans to reach consumers directly are in the works.

Kent has several words of wisdom that he shares with aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders:

 “Ask yourself: What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?”

Kent Greenawalt was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2016.

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