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San Antonio — TW Perry CEO Michael Cassidy accepted a plaque recognizing his company’s achievements, shook hands with the event’s sponsor, smiled for a photograph and approached the podium.
What followed was a Pro Dealer of the Year Award acceptance speech and, eventually, a standing ovation.
The Pro Dealer of the Year Award Dinner recognizing 2011 honoree TW Perry was one of the highlights of the 2011 ProDealer Industry Summit, held in San Antonio late last month and hosted by Home Channel News and the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA).
In his speech, Cassidy stressed the value of corporate culture, the importance of mentors and the close-knit nature of the LBM industry.
“We didn’t win this award by ourselves,” Cassidy said. “Without all this support, without all the mentors and vendors and people who helped teach us over the years, we wouldn’t be here.”
Gaithersburg, Md.-based TW Perry serves the metro Washington, D.C., area with six units, all with different personalities and uniquely matched to their markets in terms of service and product mix, according to Cassidy. The company showed double-digit sales growth in 2010 and operates with what Cassidy describes as an upside-down management strategy. He explained what that meant: “If you have contact with a customer, you are by definition the most important person in the company,” he said. “The president and CEO are at the bottom.”
Another example of the culture is the rule that management must take turns in the field, in delivery trucks and on the sales floor. “That’s not to teach people to do their jobs,” he said, “but to observe how well they do it and to have an appreciation for it.”
Turning to the ancient discipline of judo to find business metaphors, Cassidy shared the story of his mentor, Dr. Sachio Ashida, a Japanese champion who, as a 62-year-old man, helped Cassidy grow in the sport. During one sparring lesson with the master, Cassidy thought he had an opening, but he was quickly proved wrong, leading to a lesson in humility.
“Good mentors won’t make things easy on you,” he said. “On the contrary, they will occasionally kneel on your neck.”
There were plenty of other mentors recognized by Cassidy. Among them were Bob Gaites, former Strober CEO, and Tom Leete, of Pelican, The Lumber Yard and ProBuild. Both men passed away in 2011. He also pointed to his colleague at TW Perry, Ed Quinn, and industry leaders Fred Marino, Paul Hylbert, Ben Phillips and Bill Myrick as mentors.
“I’ve worked in a bunch of other industries, and I have never seen an industry like this one in regard to our willingness to coach and support each other,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy did, however, take a moment to share concern for the overall health of the LBM industry. “We have observed some of the largest players running at deficits year over year over year,” he said. “We are tearing through the collective balance sheet of the industry, and I’m confident we can turn this around. We have to.”
Before calling Cassidy to the stage of the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, Weyerhaeuser’s Wilkerson, VP national accounts, described TW Perry as a “huge influencer” for the industry, and a good customer in the Washington, D.C., market. He also congratulated TW Perry for entering into an “elite club” of companies that have been operating for a century or more. The club includes Weyerhaeuser, which was incorporated in 1900.
TW Perry was founded in 1911. One of the most dramatic changes came in the late 1990s, when the company decided to turn its emphasis away from the DIY customer and toward the remodeler and contractor.
Continuing the theme of education for which the ProDealer Industry Summit is known, Cassidy presented several action items for the audience to bring home:
• “Your customer service team is more important than you are;”
• “Surround yourself with excellence and let them run; help them where you can;”
• “Expecting great things from your people is not abusive;” and
• “Bigger isn’t better, better is better.”
“Our industry is special, and we need to continue to look out for each other and help each other where we can,” he added.