Entrepreneurial Spirit Drives Bensons to Give to USD

Roger BensonRoger Benson was raised by a single mom and the family was always short on money. So he learned at an early age to nurture his entrepreneurial spirit-mowing lawns on hot summer days and waking up at the crack of dawn to deliver newspapers.

For years, he worked as a homebuilder. But in 1975, at the age of 40, he came home and asked his wife, Judy, who was working as a labor and delivery nurse at Mercy Hospital, how she'd like to be married to a sewer cleaner.

That year the couple started a plumbing, sewer and drain cleaning company out of their home. They called it Rescue Rooter and took great pride not just in what they did, but also in how they did it. Together, they brought a whole new level of professionalism to the industry, which over time became a standard that many plumbers and other service providers still strive to achieve.

At Rescue Rooter employees answered the phone on the first ring. They responded to calls within an hour. They maintained the highest concern for the customer's "castle." Their uniforms were clean, their trucks were spotless and they received training, not only on the latest technology of their trade, but also on adhering to values most conducive to customer satisfaction.

Rescue Rooter eventually included 23 locations across 10 states, with a fleet of 800 trucks and a team of 1,300 employees. It became the largest privately held plumbing, sewer and drain cleaning company in the United States and, in 1998, the couple sold the business to a Fortune 500 company that promised to retain their employees as well as the value system for which Rescue Rooter had come to be known.

Roger and Judy still nurture the entrepreneurial spirit in others. This year Roger was part of USD's fourth annual Undergraduate Business Plan Competition in which students present their ideas for business ventures to a panel of judges to vie for a share of $5,000.

Recently, the couple made a gift to the business school through their IRA. Tax-free gifts are allowed directly from a Roth or Traditional IRA to a qualified charity, like USD, under a law that is due to expire on Dec.31, 2011. Their hope is to inspire and support future entrepreneurs.

"There's an intrinsic reward in knowing that you started something, watched it grow, provided jobs and helped others," Judy says.

Their advice to future business owners? Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Know that you may have to be the chief bottle washer. Do your research. Be lean and mean and hold off on buying space with a big corner office. Regularly communicate with other business owners who will give you honest advice. Stay humble.

"It isn't magical," Roger says. "You have to learn the skills and pay your dues. You also have to have follow-through-there are lots of people who have great ideas but don't have the discipline to follow through. But what's most important is to feel passionate about what you do."

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A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to the University of San Diego a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

an individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust or retirement plan

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cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

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the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

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