It's rare to find an enterprise whose goal ultimately is to put itself out of business. But the American Hospital Association (AHA) pretty much makes that declaration. The AHA says it envisions “a society of healthy communities where all individuals reach their highest potential for health.” In other words, a world whose people are so healthy they won't need hospitals to cure them.

The AHA's goal of planned obsolescence is a prime example of the kind of cause that Jason Jennings believes can be found in every great business. Jennings' rousing keynote speech this fall at the NLBMDA/ProSales Industry Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz., prompted a lot of introspection by summit participants, all devoted to the same questions: Why does my company exist? Why should it exist?

Jennings and the event's second keynoter, Dr. Jim Harris, argued in essence that great companies get that way because their goal is about more than meeting payroll or keeping the family name above the door. To Jennings, the truly great and lasting businesses are propelled by a cause—an objective that's big, bold, and inclusive, that rights a wrong and gives meaning to people's lives. Harris prefers to use the word “purpose,” but he was consistent in describing how great companies think, such as when Disney declares its mission is to “create happiness” and Best Buy says its goal is to “make life fun and easy.”

So what's our industry's cause, our purpose? I propose it's this: LBM dealers provide the essential local link to the American dream. Our knowledge of area conditions and needs makes it possible for goods from around the world to reach our communities' construction sites. And once the materials are on hand, our experience—and increasingly, our crews—are helping build those homes.

Michael Murray, a vice president at A.C. Houston Lumber Co., echoed that view when he told me recently about the thrill he gets whenever he flies back to A.C. Houston's headquarters in Las Vegas and he sees all the houses that his company had a hand in building in the city since it arrived in 1948. And that attitude was clear at the summit, during a PROSALES-convened roundtable of top dealers, when LBM people indicated how much they love the fact that they're helping build homes.

This mission also shines through in two initiatives that members of the LBM community are engaged in these days. The first is Project Rebuild, an effort by the Oklahoma Lumbermen's Association (OLA) to put up houses for Sooner State residents left homeless by natural disasters. By combining the efforts of LBM dealers, religious groups, and federal agencies, Project Rebuild erected 32 houses for victims of tornadoes in 1999. Now it's looking to help folks who were made homeless by wildfires and tornadoes that hit between November 2005 and March 2006. This time, Project Rebuild hopes to construct at least six homes.

Country music star Blake Shelton gave a charity concert for the effort last year and he's scheduled to put on another this summer, but OLA executive vice president Sharilyn Young is looking for dealers to contribute as well. Donations of building materials are welcome, as is cash. For details, contact Young at 800.444.1771 or at [email protected].

Craig Webb, Editor, 202.736.3307, [email protected]

Meanwhile, dealers are continuing to help those left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. Many are doing it through the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA), which is working to build an association-sponsored Habitat for Humanity home on Mississippi's Gulf Coast. Call NLBMDA at 800.634.8645 for details on how to donate materials, labor, or cash. And if you go out on your own and help a local Habitat for Humanity branch, NLBMDA suggests you send it a note recounting your good works.

“Real heroes answer the call for help,” said Bill Hofius of Ply Mart, who donned a Superman cape (actually, a hotel bath towel) to make his point during the Industry Summit. “I know for a fact that we are surrounded by them. The sacrifices they will make to help another person will humble the heart.”

Sounds like a cause, a purpose, that can define who we are.