Obituary: Wayne Alderson / Made career helping people see the value in one another

June 7, 1926 - Feb. 22, 2013

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When Wayne Alderson joined the Army as an 18-year-old to fight in World War II, he had no idea that "Red," a fellow soldier from New Hampshire, would end up giving up his life to save him.

"Dad was face to face with a German and Red saved his life ... he was ready to be shot," said his daughter, Nancy McDonnell, of Upper St. Clair.

She said Mr. Alderson was the first American soldier to cross into Germany and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star.

His friends called him "Wayne the man with the hole in his head" because of a grenade that forced shrapnel into his face.

Mr. Alderson, of Pleasant Hills, died Friday. He was 86.

In 2010, Mr. Alderson told the Post-Gazette about one of the difficult decisions he made during the war.

"I was in combat and my job was to kill the enemy," he said. "But not to murder them."

"I was told to shoot three German prisoners -- men from the 17th SS Panzer, or tank, division," he said. "I don't want to say I refused an order, but I just couldn't do it."

Instead, the German soldiers were taken away to be interrogated.

"I understand that they gave some information to our headquarters company that saved a lot of lives," Mr. Alderson said.

He used this sense of morality to make a career of helping people see the value in one another, especially in the workplace.

At Pittron Steel, a company with a bitter relationship between labor and management, Mr. Alderson helped resolve a strike and change the confrontational culture that threatened to bring the company to its knees.

The story is recounted in R.C. Sproul's biography of Mr. Alderson, "Stronger than Steel."

Ms. McDonnell attributes her father's ability to change workplace cultures to his interest in connecting with everyday people, which made others trust him immediately.

"He grew up in the streets ... and he could really speak the language," Ms. McDonnell said.

The family always joked that he liked people so much he could be found talking to a lamp post.

Mr. Alderson spent the past 40 years running a consulting firm he founded called Value of the Person. The company helps businesses traverse the sometimes acrimonious terrain between managers and their employees.

Paul Limbach, a friend and colleague, says Mr. Alderson's theory of management -- which centers on treating others with dignity and respect -- had a significant impact at his company.

Mr. Limbach, 58, is the chief operating officer of Amsted Rail in Illinois. He got connected to Mr. Alderson when he decided to send one of his more prickly employees to one of his workshops in Pittsburgh.

"I sent some really tough guys to the seminar who looked at it skeptically," Mr. Limbach said. "But then they said we should do this here."

Mr. Alderson's management theory is articulated in the book he co-authored with his daughter, "Theory R Management."

Mr. Limbach has read it several times and says the message is simple and based on common sense principles of respect and responsibility.

"You read it and you think it's very basic, but it's also very profound," Mr. Limbach said. "As you're going through it, you think to yourself 'How do I know all this stuff but never do it?' "

Mr. Alderson is survived by his wife, Nancy; two siblings, Lilly Shannon and Jeanne Alderson, both of Canonsburg; and a grandson.

A funeral service will be held Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Pleasant Hills Community Presbyterian Church.

obituaries

Staff writer Len Barcousky contributed. Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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