(Editor's Note: Wolf served as president of The Wolf Organization, York, Pa., from 1985 to 2006, when he left to serve as Pennsylvania's Secretary of Revenue. After seriously exploring a run for governor of the state, he returned to Wolf as CEO in March 2009.)
Then, as we all know, everything changed.
The rapid collapse of the housing market led The Wolf Organization to make several painful business decisions and eventually led me back to a leadership position with the company. Our story represents just one example of how the rapid contraction in housing has affected all of us. But our approach to managing the change also taught us important lessons, forcing us to refocus on our core strengths and reposition our 165-year-old company for the years to come. These lessons hold value for anyone seeking a successful future in our industry.
A difficult path to viability
The collapse of the housing, credit and financial markets placed considerable stress on the companies my family and others had worked to sustain and grow since 1843. Even prior to my recent return, The Wolf Organization had made some very tough strategic decisions.
In 2008, they sold the assets of The Lumber Yard, a long-time mid-Atlantic pro-oriented dealer, to other family-operated independents. This move had been preceded by the consolidation of 18 locations into four.
The corporate office was painfully right-sized to fit the new level of business, and all efforts were focused on the success Wolf Distributing Co., the wholesale division that serves dealers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. The decision to concentrate on Wolf Distributing was based on the logic of returning to core strengths in a time of crisis. For us, those strengths are the pillars wholesale distribution: world-class logistics capabilities, a robust understanding of the supply chain, and strong partnerships with manufacturers, among others.
Then, toward the end of 2008, company leadership approach me. I decided to return and reinvest--financially, functionally and emotionally--into what again has become the family business. We made further moves toward stability and health, reducing debt obligations through a re-infusion of cash.
Repositioning for the future
The business environment that hobbled The Wolf Organization has affected nearly every company in the building materials industry. Refocusing our business and reorganizing our debt were, for us, two steps toward viability.
But bear in mind that we did not take these simply to survive. Despite our dispiriting economy, there will be as many as 600,000 new homes built in the United States during 2009, in addition to repair and remodeling work, and more. Someone's got to sell into that market, and we believe it might as well be The Wolf Organization--and the dealers we serve.
This remains a difficult period. Still, I'm glad to be back. And, though I will never know the outcome of my abandoned political aspirations, I fully expect my re-investment in the family business will pay significant financial returns when the housing market rebounds.
Unprecedented times provide extraordinary opportunities for individuals and organizations with a clear focus, a succinct plan, and the right people to move that plan forward with commitment and optimism. I firmly believe The Wolf Organization's core values and strengths will produce great things.
I encourage others in our industry to look inward, re-discover what made their companies and our industry successful, and rededicate themselves to the important work of providing quality housing for our nation.