More than four years after Hurricane Katrina, Michael Hayden and Riverside Lumber continue to rebuild in New Orleans. Founded in 1920, Riverside was destroyed by the storm. Today, many of its structures have been rebuilt on their original concrete slabs but raised several feet. Riverside is so close to New Orleans' levee system that the dealer rents excess acreage to government agencies working on the levees. Specializing in more than 75 species of fine hardwoods and manufacturing its own custom moldings, Riverside has branched out into traditional framing lumber. Hayden is known around the yard as "the emperor," which is "good and bad sometimes," he says.

Michael Hayden
Tim Mueller / Michael Hayden

The Market Obviously the market has changed significantly since the storm. You have to really have knowledgeable people rebuilding homes themselves and stretching insurance dollars on top of the recession. These people are trying to do these things themselves. We serve close to 50/50 when it comes to pros and homeowners. All of the homeowners in our client base have become much more involved in the process of building or rebuilding and refinishing their homes. They are a lot more educated than they used to be. New construction is probably 70/30 split with remodeling.

Be Prepared Hopefully, you never have to use your backup system, but you have to back up your computers every day. I insisted on that years ago and started with a floppy disc. After Katrina I went to a local computer store, bought a laptop, stuck a CD in there, and there was my company. You have to make sure you have some type of disaster plan, you've reviewed it enough times, and everyone knows what their role is. It's not worth anything if you create the plan when disaster strikes.

Size Matters One of our biggest advantages is we are large enough to feed everyone in the family but small enough to be flexible. Unlike boxes and multi-location stores, our flexibility is our key to survival during difficult times.

Nothing Personal We keep the employer/employee relation separate. All of the financial success you have and financial failures are based on how well you run that engine. If we don't work together then we have problems. Good work deserves good pay. With bad work you need to talk and see if you can work it out.

Building Relations I had a wonderful relation with the bank. Vendors, customers, insurance companies are some of the most wonderful relations you have. That's what makes it possible to survive: built-up years of trust. [Otherwise] you are just another number.

Measuring Success [I'm happy] if I can look out and know that all of my employees have secure jobs and our families are secure in their future. You don't make a nickel unless the men that work for you are secure in their jobs and their pay.