In an effort to recognize the contributions of the company’s young talent, 84 Lumber recently instituted a Rookie of the Year award. The inaugural Rookie of the Year winner was Al Whitehead, co-manager in North Charlotte, N.C., who started as a manager trainee in June 2015.
In many ways, Al Whitehead is fulfilling a lifelong passion for building things. His passion was developed and nurtured as a child who spent hours designing structures with colorful, plastic Lego bricks.
That passion for building — and for Legos — never let go. But his building materials have grown considerably in size and value.
“I have always liked to construct things,” Whitehead said, referring to his Legos. “So it is kind of uncanny that that’s what I have been into and am still into today.”
Whitehead began his career in building materials, but left for five and half years when he worked as a personal trainer and sold off-road vehicles. It turned out, building materials was in his DNA, and when he got the opportunity to join 84 Lumber, he said he jumped at the chance.
“Seeing what we sell turn into structures is the best part of my job,” he said. “I get no greater high than when I go to a job site and see the progress being made with the materials that we supplied and witnessing it during the building process.”
Whitehead received the company’s Rookie of the Year award in 2016. And like any thoughtful award winner, he credited his teammates and managers at 84 Lumber who set the stage for his performance. “They really give you the tools you need to be successful,” he said.
Specifically, Whitehead hailed the company’s Lumber Camp, in which new management trainees participate in a rigorous two-and-a half days of training, with top executives on hand to provide guidance. Whitehead explains it this way: “It is like college in a way; you network with the guys—it’s something special and I don’t think anyone else does it like 84 Lumber does. If you run into an obstacle, you can handle it because of the training you went through.”
In addition to structured training, there’s no shortage of informal mentorship within the 84 Lumber ranks, he said. And Whitehead feels that culture of support begins at the top of the privately held company, with Joe Hardy and Maggie Hardy Magerko setting the tone. “We are all 84 members,” Whitehead said. “From the top down I have received mentorship, and it continues to inspire me and drive me to dream bigger. Everyone has played a vital part of advancing my career and everyone around me has given me the motivation to succeed and push harder and keep going.”
As a co-manager at 84 Lumber, Whitehead routinely comes into a wide variety of projects and problems with any combination of contractors, suppliers, homeowners, as well as others. With so many moving parts, the manager of a building supply dealer is in a position that requires talent. No two situations are exactly the same.
To Whitehead, success comes down to respect, patience and effective communication. “Those are my three keys in terms of working with every customer,” he said. “You have to have a level of empathy to put yourself in a customer’s shoes. There are plenty of times in my life when I had issues as a consumer. So you try to work together with the customer to find a solution. In the end you have to be able to listen to the customer—and the issues that come up and be able to resolve them.”
Whitehead has worked for big box lumber building materials suppliers so he has some perspective on what 84 Lumber brings to the table.
For others starting out in the building supply industry, Whitehead offers the following career advice: keep an open mind, have a plan, and stick to it. For himself, he enjoys serving customers and chasing his goals at 84 Lumber. “And I mean that with all seriousness. There is no shortage of opportunities, no shortage of possibilities, if you put your mind to it.”
See more coverage of 84 Lumber in this special issue of HBSDealer.