Funk receives the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award
Friends, family and followers,
Wow! Last month, I was honored to receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award.
As not one typically found speechless, this award is truly humbling, heartfelt and greatly appreciated. The Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes those who, throughout their life and professional career, have significantly contributed to the advancement of the sport of bull riding and rodeo.
You already know that I tip my hat to anyone who represents the values of the American West (personally and through their approach to business) and I certainly appreciate that the American West was built upon extraordinary human achievement and moral purpose. Of course, rodeo is incorporated into the West’s myths, tales and legends but rodeo owes just about everything—its traditions, its attitudes, its fashions—to rough-and-tumble Mexican cowboys of the early 1800s.
Far from today’s gold belt buckles and televised syndications, ranch hands of Mexico and eventually the Western states, often known as vaqueros, perfected the roping and riding skills we see in today’s competitions. They also innovated rodeo fashion: leather boots, chaps, big hats and the rest. And it was in Mexico that the sport got its name, derived from the Spanish verb rodear: to encircle or round up.
Among these itinerant freelancers, you would largely find mestizo people (of mixed Native American and Spanish ancestry), Black people, Indigenous people and criollos (Spaniards born in North America) who shared a competitive but rewarding lifestyle and the sporting desire to determine who was ‘best in the saddle’.
If you have not enjoyed a live rodeo in a while, make a point to enjoy an evening among true competitors and friendly Americans showcasing athletes attempting to stay on a one-ton bull for eight seconds. In my experience, it is the Cowboys and their families who also make up entrepreneurs, writers, poets, statesmen and others who revere our beautiful land, cherish freedom, and inspire their fellow man. May God bless us all.
PUEBLO, Colo. – On Sept. 9, the PBR’s current stars and all-time greats will converge on Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for the Heroes and Legends induction ceremony at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
At said ceremony, Bob Funk Sr. will receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes those who, throughout their life and professional career, have significantly contributed to the advancement of the sport of bull riding and rodeo.
It’s a fitting award for Funk in a fitting setting, as the PBR may not have found itself a home in Oklahoma City if it weren’t for him.
Funk is a multi-hyphenate businessman who, in 1983, founded Express Employment Professionals, headquartered in Oklahoma City, which has since grown into a multi-billion-dollar company with more than 780 franchises that employ upwards of 500,000 people globally. Among numerous other positions he has held, Funk has also been chairman of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, which now hosts Heroes and Legends and the soon-to-be-launched PBR Hall of Fame.
He’s also chaired the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and the Oklahoma Youth Expo. He has been named Most Admired CEO by the Journal Record newspaper, Man of the Year by Impact OKC Magazine, and he’s been inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the International Franchise Association Hall of Fame, and the Sales and Marketing Executives International Hall of Fame.
But before all that, he had a humble upbringing at his family’s farm in Washington state, which fostered his love of the Western lifestyle.
“I was raised on a dairy farm, and so I loved the dairy business and the beef cattle business for a long, long time,” Funk said. “And moving to Oklahoma was a great opportunity. It was a great opportunity for us to get more involved in the beef cattle business because I didn’t have to get up milking every morning. So I started with some beef cattle, I bought some angus, and then I didn’t have enough land, so I bought some more land and didn’t have enough cattle. And it’s been going that way ever since.”
That first ranch of his has been at the forefront of his cattle business, where he focuses on breeding.
“One of our purposes, of course, in developing cattle is because as the cattle industry becomes smaller and smaller because of the passing of many of our forefathers, we need better cattle on smaller space,” Funk said. “So improving the genetics of cattle in America has been really an important role, I believe, for us and for others as well. And we’ve been able to raise calves off of a cow – used to be 550 pounds. Now, we can get them up to 2,000 pounds at the time of weaning. So we have more volume than we had in the past and had a better quality of cattle, too. We like to think there’s more cattle that are now prime and choice than we’ve had in the past.”
While a cattleman at heart, Funk is, of course, known to the world as a businessman. In addition to Express Employment Professionals, he launched additional businesses, including Express Sports, now known as Prodigal LLC, which served as a representation agency for dozens of bull riders and helped grow various premier series PBR events in Oklahoma.
“Cattle people are just wonderful people. The people of the West, of course, are wonderful as well,” Funk said. “And so I wanted to make sure that I was supporting the PRCA and the PBR and these young men. I supported (saddle bronc rider) Billy Etbauer, who was in Oklahoma and a five-time world champion. He came to me – he was really the start – and he said, ‘We really need to make a little more money.’ They would drive all year long and be lucky to break even at the end of the year unless they made some money at the NFR, and I had an affinity for him and his wonderful wife. And so I started supporting them. And it grew, of course, into an agency that we wanted to support more cowboys. They deserve a better life than what they had.”
Ultimately, Funk says, it’s all about family.
“Most of the Western lifestyle is about the family, and most of the athletes are concerned about their family and then the earnings, of course, that they make,” Funk said. “And that was really why I thought we could help them to have a better lifestyle, and we have been able to do that. I think we’ve had nine World Champions in the PBR, and we were able to increase the value of the winnings of the NFR.”
Funk even went so far as to attempt to get the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo back to Oklahoma City, which was the event’s host from 1964 to 1984. While that endeavor never panned out, what he did bring to Oklahoma City and Tulsa was the PBR.
The premier series has been going to Oklahoma City since 1999 and Tulsa since 2005, and the PBR Camping World Team Series’ Oklahoma Freedom now call OKC home. The Heroes and Legends ceremony coincides with Freedom Fest, the Freedom’s homestand, at Paycom Center on Sept. 8-10.
After so many years of partnership, Funk is thrilled to receive the Jim Shoulders Lifetime Achievement Award.
“It’s a great honor to be honored by the PBR,” Funk said. “I’m in about nine other Hall of Fames, but each one of them is such a thrill and such a privilege because not many people have the opportunity to be recognized for what they’ve done in their lifetime. And my lifetime is getting pretty old. So yeah, it’s really a thrill at 83 years old.”
Funk’s philosophy is simple: you’re only as good as the last person you helped. Looking back on his long, storied career, that’s how he hopes he’s remembered.
“I hope they remember me to be their friend,” Funk said. “And by being their friend, that I help them in their lives.
It’s really, really a thrill to help somebody be successful. Whatever ‘successful’ is. Success is different things to different people, and you just want to help them as much as you can with where they want to go with their lives. And we’ve had the privilege of doing that. I’m just so elated that we’re able to help others.”
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