Born to Italian immigrant parents in the Silver Lake section of Providence, he attended Providence public schools and graduated from Mt. Pleasant High School. He furthered his education at Bryant College earning a degree in accounting and finance in 1947 with the distinction of magna cum laude. Upon graduation, Ralph was employed by the accounting firms of Ernst & Young and Arthur Anderson & Co.
At the age of twenty-nine Ralph founded Glass-Tile Industries, the maker of glass-to-metal hermetic seals for the emerging semi-conductor industry. The firm expanded from six employees to fifty-two in one year. By 1959, the company employed 300 people and Ralph took the company public as one of the few Rhode Island companies to make such a financial leap. Such a move would be his first of several.
Ralph is probably best known for founding Nortek, Inc. in 1967–a manufacturer and seller of diversified home products. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Nortek has posted $1.5 billion in sales and employed 14,000 people in thirty-four states. Ralph retired as chairman of this highly successful firm in 1990.
Ralph’s next innovative venture was American Flexible Conduit Company in New Bedford. He renamed the company AFC Cable Systems and executed another successful initial public offering. It became the third company Ralph had taken public.
Mr. Papitto also enjoyed great success in the nonprofit world. He joined the Board of Trustees of Roger Williams University in 1969 becoming its chairman in 1987. During Ralph’s tenure on the board, the small liberal arts college experienced tremendous growth in size and reputation. The college created a School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation; a School of Engineering, Computing, and Construction Management; the Gabelli School of Business; and Rhode Island’s only School of Law. Also during this period, additional dormitories were added to meet the demand of increased enrollment. A full service campus recreational building was also constructed. Many, including the directors of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, consider him to be the greatest single influence on this dynamic university.
In 2007, Ralph and his wife, Barbara, founded a program to help inner-city children improve their reading skills and earn scholarship funds. This Read to Succeed program’s mission is to improve literacy for Providence low-income students by encouraging them to address their learning loss over the summer with the powerful incentive of a $1,000 college scholarship awarded to them each year for five years. The Papitto Foundation now funds all of the organization’s administrative expenses so that 100% of contributions to the fund go to helping children achieve their goals. In the words of our inductee: “Kids who read will succeed.”
Mr. Papitto’s successful business career and his commitment to improving the community clearly earn him a position of prominence in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.