Ben Rosenthal Award
Bollman Hat Company
Don Rongione spent the last 41+ years at Bollman Hat Company and has been the President & CEO of America’s oldest hat manufacturer for 21 years. Don has been a headwear industry visionary and a champion of American Manufacturing throughout his career. On July 4, 2009, Don founded American Made Matters, an organization with a mission to educate consumers on the importance of buying American made products to strengthen the American Dream.
Don has served on the Bollman Hat Company Executive Committee since the age of 26 and has always remained focused on American-made products. “Bollman Hat Company is built on the strength of American Manufacturing, and focusing on domestic production is one of the main reasons we have survived for 155 years,” said Rongione. Bollman was founded in 1868 and began as a woolfelt hat manufacturer with a private label focus. Since then, Bollman has evolved into a global, brand-focused company leading the industry with brands including Bailey, Kangol and Helen Kaminski. Bollman was recently named the 19th oldest continuously operating consumer product company in the United States.
Don has placed a priority on employee ownership and the benefits of acting like an owner which is a core value of Bollman Hat Company. Don proposed and Bollman adopted its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in 1985 to provide a succession plan for the company. At the end of 2021, Bollman became 100% ESOP owned and is now the oldest 100% ESOP owned company in Pennsylvania. “As owners who share in our profits, Bollman employees pride themselves on a ‘never say die’ spirit,” said Rongione. “Their ability to pivot and navigate the changing cycles of the headwear industry is inspirational, and as owners their commitment is unwavering. Some of our employees are the fourth generation of their family to work at Bollman.”
Heritage is an important part of Bollman’s history, but Don has always encouraged his teams to also focus on innovation, and “create trends, as well as grasping them.” During Don’s tenure, the company has innovated materials and finishes including LiteFelt® (Bollman’s packable, water repellent woolfelt), Raindura® (Bailey’s shape retentive straw), Kangol Woollux (made from super fine Merino wool raised in the Catskills of New York), and Elite Velour (Bailey’s luxurious woolfelt that feels like a furfelt).
Don and his wife, Maryellen Kueny, have been married since 1976. They have four sons, two grandsons and a granddaughter due in a week.
Don’s advice for a lengthy career? “Surround yourself with great people, empower them to create and innovate, and never waver from a strong foundation of core values.”
Congratulations Don Rongione, our 2023 Rosenthal Award Winner.