Grooming Leaders for Tomorrow Takes Effort Today

President's Message

Grooming Leaders for Tomorrow Takes Effort Today

SBCA “Emerging Leaders” program looks to the future.

Sometimes I just can’t believe how fast the years go by. In 1984, my grandfather got me a job stacking trusses at the company he had worked at for the previous 35 years, Edward Hines Lumber in St. Charles, IL. My brother also worked there, and I can still remember complaining to him after a long day of moving those heavy trusses off the assembly line. If you had told me then that, one day, I’d be managing a truss plant and serving on the SBCA Board, I would have laughed at you. Yet, here I am.

I continually remind myself that I didn’t end up here without a lot of help and guidance from others in this industry. Bear with me for a bit. I want to share with you a little of my past, in order to illustrate how important it is to make connections, build friendships and, ultimately, reap the benefits of giving back. It’s what makes this industry so great.

For example, at Edward Hines, I became good friends with one of the designers. There were several years that we lived a few doors away from each other and we raised our kids together. His passion for the truss industry rubbed off on me. I worked nights, and when I needed help with dimensions, or information for a set-up, he worked late and always helped me out. That was about the time that I figured out trusses were the future of framing buildings. I remember telling my wife we could do things with trusses we could never do with stick framing. She laughed and said everyone hates prefab houses—and so the challenge began.

By 1993, I moved to New England to take a job with Truss Tech and started to get somewhat serious about the idea of a career. That’s one of the funny things about this industry; when you’re young, it’s easy to think of your job as just a job until you find something better. However, there are so many career opportunities in the truss business that will allow you to make a good living. Unlike a lot of other professions, it doesn’t matter what your work, education or socioeconomic background is; all that matters is how willing you are to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. The more you apply yourself and fill a need, the more valuable you become, and the more opportunities you have to take on even greater responsibility and make a career of it.

My boss at Truss Tech understood I couldn’t learn everything I needed to know by staying put in the truss plant. He encouraged me to attend the SBCA – Northeast Chapter meetings. I remember meeting Lee Vulgaris (a Past President of SBCA) and really enjoying the relationships I was able to form with the guys who attended those meetings. They offered me a much broader perspective of the truss business and gave me an appreciation for the entrepreneurial spirit of our industry. In 1993, I attended my first BCMC show. That event nearly blew my mind.

Eventually, I found I missed the Midwest and took a job offer at Imperial Components. There I got to work for Don Hershey (another SBCA Past President; read more about his many contributions to the industry), and became good friends with his son, Keith Hershey, when he was forced to share a room with me at a BCMC show. Keith now helps run our SBC Research Institute (SBCRI) in Madison, WI, and I have valued our friendship over the years.

After Imperial, I guess I decided to settle down and took a job with Plum Building Systems here in Iowa. I don’t remember if staying at Plum was the long-term plan going into it, but I certainly don’t regret having stayed all this time. My boss also strongly encouraged me to seek advice and gather best practices outside the confines of our plant. He saw SBCA (known as WTCA back then) as a way to get to know other component manufacturers and learn about how they solved the problems I was facing in our plant.

I remember Roger Gibbs (yes, another SBCA Past President) called me up and asked me to attend a meeting of the Iowa Truss Manufacturer’s Association (ITMA). I quickly became friends with Roger and Ray Noonan (read more about Ray and his family’s story), and they gently strong-armed me into serving on ITMA’s Board. It was through that involvement (and Roger’s persistent encouragement) that I started getting involved in the national affairs of the truss industry through SBCA.

When I first started serving on the board, SBCA’s leadership was pretty well established. All I had to do was listen, soak it all in and help out anywhere I could. Those guys passed on a great deal of personal knowledge, and they inspired me to become better. If I look at the list of SBCA Presidents who have served since I joined the board, I can’t help but be amazed at my good fortune for having had the pleasure of working with some of the smartest and most generous people in our industry. These leaders shared their life passion with us so that we could all become better component manufacturers.

Hopefully, by now, you can appreciate that I did not become a leader in my company, and a leader in the organization, through either chance or on my own. I was led by others who had a long-term vision for the companies I was a part of, and for the industry as a whole. Those men in my life saw my work ethic and my drive, they took me under their wings, and they helped mold me into the man I am today. It took a lot of my own hard work, but I couldn’t have achieved what I have without their guidance and faith. I feel fortunate today to still have the ability to work with forward-thinking leaders like our owners here at Gilcrest/Jewett Lumber. They continue to encourage me to build relationships outside our company and participate in our association.

When I look at our industry today, I can’t help but feel a little troubled at the seeming lack of young(ish) people being groomed for leadership—in their companies, in the SBCA chapters and nationally. It is my hope today’s leaders start identifying and shepherding these individuals. That is why the SBCA Board is considering the development of an “Emerging Leaders” program. We want to create an opportunity for our industry’s next generation of leaders to begin networking with each other today. It will be a chance for them to learn more about our industry’s past, while also getting tied into its future at the same time.

Much like my journey, participants in this “Emerging Leaders” program will get a chance to interact with our current leaders and get a broader perspective on the industry and the trends that will determine where it will be when they take over the reins. If you haven’t thought about who you want to groom to take your place, today is the day to start. If you’ve already thought about it, or better yet, been actively engaged in mentoring them, consider getting them involved in this “Emerging Leaders” program. It will make them a better leader in your company, and it will make the industry stronger as a whole.