I remember in the '70s we were all afraid that eventually we were going to run out of wood. That fear, compounded by government involvement in the housing industry when it wasn't wanted, non-securitized mortgages, and other factors, made for a cyclical pro dealer market with wide price fluctuations. You were up, and then you were down. At the time, two things helped BMHC to ride out that storm. The first was a solid corporate culture and a steadfast team of employees focused on performance and service characterized by quality and simplicity. The second was a competitive camaraderie that continues to exist in our business today and has led the majority of the well-run companies of yesterday to their current success.
That camaraderie is one of my earliest reflections of the industry. Standouts like Lanoga CEO Paul Hylbert and former CEO Darryl Nagel, and The Contractor Yard CEO Ben Phillips and regional vice president Frank Chambers come to mind, particularly because I have known them the longest, but there are many, many more. When BMHC was still the distribution arm of Boise Cascade, and Nagel was in charge of Winona, Minn.–based United Building Centers, we would have roundtables to talk about industry challenges and opportunities: What are we doing that is right? What are we doing that is not right? We did the same thing with Weyerhaeuser—we would talk about business issues, and it pulled us together.
You don't necessarily see that in other industries. This spirit is a bit intangible, but sometimes I look at it like this: Our “factory” is a piece of dirt where you throw in the wind and the bad weather, and somehow try to deliver the materials to build a house. You can put the trusses and the walls together beforehand, and that makes things easier, but when you get out on the jobsite, that's the factory floor, that's the assembly line, and there is something about the simplicity of that dirt that leads to pride. We are creating homes for people to live and grow in, and as part of that process most of us wear an invisible badge that I have ultimately come to easily read and recognize. It says, “I care.”
I see that badge throughout BMHC. I see executives and managers and drivers and load builders who focus on that quality and simplicity, a way of approaching business that says, “If I am going to do something, I am going to do it right.” I see it because, like BMHC executives Rob Mellor, Stan Wilson, Mike Mahre, Paul Street, and Bill Smartt, among others, I have made it a point to take off the tie, get out of the office, go to our locations, visit our jobsites, and listen to and empower our people, because they are the ones who ultimately develop and execute the plans for how we succeed.
Thirty years later and we still have not run out of wood. And we're still all out there for the same reason: the betterment of our companies and the betterment of our industry. No doubt, housing prices go up and down and lumber prices rise and fall. You manage through these fluctuations as long as you have dependable colleagues and peers, a solid corporate culture, and outstanding employees that take pride in what your company is doing.
As I retire, I can offer this advice gleaned from my years with BMHC: Give the team something to believe in, and they'll step up to the plate for you. Everyone has to be part of your decision-making process, so go out and spend time where the work is done. Visit your locations, talk to the people, and see how it happens. Take the business suit off. That's not us, unless we're sitting in the office. Even then it's not us.
This will continue to be a great industry going forward. Some people will inevitably wash out, but they won't wash out because of the market, they'll wash out because they will forget about the pride, the quality, and the simplicity inherent to our business. Over time, the best will rise to the top, and I think the best of the best are already out there operating today.