Just like a football team, a top-rated LBM operation puts a premium on teamwork, skill, and determination to succeed. Perhaps that's why the industry has attracted several former professional football players.
From sales reps to owners, ProSales found a half dozen LBM veterans who played in the National Football League. And when they left the gridiron, they all believe they carried special qualities with them to work in construction supply.
"You bring a commitment and a work ethic that's better than most people's," says C.W. "Cookie" Brinkman, who played wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, and Cincinnati Bengals during the early 1970s. "It's been driven into you all the way through high school, college, and pros that you need these disciplines."
Brinkman, vice president of marketing at ASI Building Products, a distributor based in Tampa, Fla., saw commitment first-hand in Cleveland Browns quarterback and teammate Brian Sipe. Despite spending the first two years of his career on the sidelines as a backup and seeing no playing time, Sipe kept studying game film and working on his skills, Brinkman recalls. Sipe eventually made it into the starting lineup in 1974, and in 1980 he won the league's Most Valuable Player Award.
But not all traits can be transferred directly, Brinkman cautions. Take, for instance, the violence and aggression that can win you cheers when you're in a football jersey but can lead to trouble when you're wearing the lumberyard's uniform.
"Where you were used to hitting people, now you have to be politically correct and nice," says Brinkman. "There's a little bit of culling back on your [aggression]."
Among the most famous ex-pros in LBM is Lee Roy Jordan, president of a Dallas-based lumber company bearing his name. Jordan played both center and linebacker at the University of Alabama for famed coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. The Crimson Tide won a national championship during Jordan's junior year and he was an All-American linebacker as a senior. After college, Jordan played for the Dallas Cowboys and legendary NFL coach Tom Landry.
"Football brought a lot to bear [on my business] by having to work hard, having a good work ethic," he says. "It means you have to have integrity in your business and you have to continue to show those examples throughout your life.
"You've got to have everybody giving their best effort and handle customers' needs," Jordan adds. "It's got to be a teamwork approach and it's very, very similar to sports as far as I'm concerned."
Watching both Bryant and Landry operate as coaches taught Jordan that one key to building a team was communicating with others, be they players or employees. He says both coaches held meetings with individual players and their position coaches to gauge each player's development. Jordan does the same thing with his employees.
He is convinced that both coaches could have successfully run an LBM operation. As organized and committed people, Jordan says they would run the "world champion" of lumberyards.
While Jordan lasted 12 years in the NFL, other ex-players now in LBM were not so lucky. Benton Reed, who played defensive tackle at the University of Mississippi, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986 and later played for the New England Patriots. But after three seasons and a few injuries, he called it a career. Reed then worked for various LBM companies, including Weyerhaeuser and James Hardie Building Products, before moving to McCoy's Building Supply as a commercial sales manager.
Home Field Advantage
Regardless of where he worked, Reed found a number of aspects from football that helped him deal with co-workers, customers, and competitors.
"The ability to compete and not give up and just keep going has really helped my career," the two-year starter at Ole Miss says. It's a big reason why he says he didn't tremble when he first broke into LBM. "There's a lot of very proud, sure people in this industry and I wasn't intimidated by the guys making a ton of money in this industry," says Reed. "I was like, 'OK, this is cool.'"
Reed says that during his time in the NFL he also learned the value of being a self-starter by having to motivate himself to get up and go to work.
"When I was playing [professional] football, I worked for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the morning, but at noon, I was at the gym," says Reed. "There was no coach there to tell me what to do; I had to do it on my own. Either you figure it out or you don't play."
He says that training taught him how to figure out whatever problems he faced. Through his experiences, Reed says he learned that builders and customers want that in a dealer: a problem solver.
"There's no, 'Well I don't know what to do,'" says Reed. "You work through it, and some things work and some things don't."
Charlie Babb knew only success when he was a safety with the 1972 Miami Dolphins–the only NFL team ever to go undefeated for an entire season. After retiring, he stayed in south Florida and eventually became president of Raymond Building Supply in Fort Myers. Raymond made the cover of ProSales in January 2002 as our dealer of the year.
In a 2002 interview with Gulfshore Business magazine, Babb said he ran Raymond Building Supply with a team emphasis.
"I use a phrase here with my management staff:'I'm not going to make a lot of decisions, but as a group we are going to make a lot of decisions,'" said Babb.
He said he learned from Don Shula, his coach with the Dolphins, about how to keep people productive and working at high levels. "Coach Shula was always very organized, very repetitious but very consistent," Babb said. "You can't manage today the way Vince Lombardi used to coach where he berated people." (A taskmaster, Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers to NFL and Super Bowl titles in the 1960s.)
As for other former defensive players in the LBM industry, Rod Smith went to Notre Dame and then played seven seasons with the pros, primarily for the New England Patriots (who made him a second-round draft pick) and Carolina Panthers but also briefly for the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. He started 27 games and recorded five interceptions during his career. Today he's an outside sales rep for The Building Center, a dealer based in Pineville, N.C.