Volume 47, Issue 8 - October 2008

AMD Sails Under
New Leadership

The Association of Millwork Distributors (AMD) incoming president, Jeff Johnson, is the president of Western Pacific Building Materials in Portland, Ore. He got his start in the millwork business after graduating from college in sales support and showroom sales at Hillsdale/Lone Star Door and Plywood in Portland. Johnson is no stranger to hard work. During high school he had a paper route, ran his own lawn service and worked in factories during summers in college. SHELTER caught up with Johnson in early June.

Q:If you could have any job in the world, what would that be?

A: President of the United States. I have an internal need to give back and help people. I see an urgent need to address two major issues that seem to plague our country and could be an anchor around our neck as we compete in the new global marketplace.

One issue is providing a solid basic education in reading, math and writing for the children of the United States. If people have a strong education foundation they can provide for themselves, and have the opportunity to advance in whatever field they choose and help the organization where they work thrive against international competition.

The second concern is the high cost of health care. I feel the average worker is getting to the breaking point to where he or she will not be able to afford health care for their family. I estimate that in two years the cost of insurance for our workers at Western Pacific will be higher than the cost of a home mortgage. This is a very difficult situation for the average worker.

This is the serious side of me. The adventure side would say a CIA agent, fighter pilot or professional golfer.

Q:Would you say that young people are being steered away from the millwork business or building trade?

A: When I graduated from college, I was not looking to work in the millwork industry. I was looking at big companies that were to me, at the time, very exciting. I found the millwork industry through one of my fatherís associates. I thought I would work in millwork for a few years and move on to another industry. But what I found in millwork was an industry that was built on trust, relationships and a handshake. When I did look around for another position, I realized how unique the millwork industry is and how fortunate I was to be involved in an environment built on relationships.

Q: How would you suggest AMD and its members go about reaching young people?

A: The AMD is very aware of the need to get younger members involved in the industry. This year, you will see several new approaches to get young people to the annual convention were they can make contact with older individuals in the industry. This year young professionals ages 21 to 35 will be offered free admission to the annual convention and there will be a lunch focused on younger members. This is a new approach, and I hope it will be successful in exposing young professionals to the great attributes of the millwork industry and the value of the AMD Annual Convention.

Q:How do you feel your company is different from other businesses and what are some of its unique characteristics?

A: I donít think we are different than other companies. We come to the office everyday and work hard, have fun and take care of our customers.

Q: What are your greatest professional challenges?

A: Keeping people focused on providing customer service and delivering quality products. It is easy to get off track with distractions that are not important to our company philosophy.

Q:What are the biggest lessons the business has taught you?

A: Take care of your customers, vendors and your employees and they will take care of your business.

Q:How do you think the Internet has impacted the millwork business?

A: It has probably created more demands on our customer service. Customers are expecting instant response to e-mails and instant messages which has created more stress on sales people and support people in our organization.

Q:Do you consider yourself to be Internet-savvy?

A: Yes, until I get home and see how far behind I am on my skills compared to my three children. Even my 6th-grade daughter makes me look like a beginner.

Q:How do you feel the green movement has and will impact the millwork industry?

A: The west coast seems to be leading this movement. Portland, where our head office is located, may be ground zero. There are several LEED projects, including the first Platinum LEED condo project in the United States. We recently had an open house on green products, and I was surprised by the turn out and also the interest in environmentally- friendly products. The movement will be slow, but as costs come down, I see more people moving towards green products, but it will take several years.

Q:And what role do you foresee AMD playing in this movement?

A: I see the AMD providing educational sessions on LEED and the availability of green products from manufacturers. There is a green session at the educational portion of this yearís convention.

Q: What has been your opinion of the sidehinged exterior door standard, S141?

A: Iíve been vocal in opposing S141. I agree there needs to be some type of standard, but there needs to be more discussion among industry associations, which includes AMD and its members. The main sticking point for me is that the language in S141 does not allow for interchangeable components which would limit options to all customers, which has never worked in any industry, historically.

Q:Who are your mentors in the business?

A: My three key mentors are my father who gave me a great work ethic and a strong financial understanding of the business world. Unfortunately, he suffered an aneurism 12 years ago which altered his memory; Bob Harrison, with whom I have worked for 23 years, and has been in the millwork industry since the 70s; and Brooks Ragen, who has been in investment banking industry since the 1960s. All of these individuals help me focus on what is important in life and to walk through the business world mine-field more knowledgeably. They also give me great historical economic perspective. In addition, I have met many great individuals through the AMD who have helped me build my business philosophy and foundation. I am grateful for all their excellent advice and guidance.

Q: What are your most important priorities for the coming year as AMD president?
A: Translating the great value of an AMD membership to all our current members and assisting in growing the membership of the association.

Q: Do you think AMD is going in the right direction?
A: Absolutely. We took the lead in spotting the danger of S141 to our membership and opposing movement. We will continue to work on a solution to S141, educating the millwork industry and, mostly like, have a hand in the introduction of green products. All of these topics are paramount and the excellent staff at the association is constantly working on ways to make sure our membership is well advised and represented.

Q: Have you found other AMD members to be helpful?
A: The membership of the AMD is so friendly, open and trusting. I enjoy the ability to benchmark with distributors and manufactures from all areas of our industry. I cannot think of another venue or association where so much information is shared about what is going on in our industry, what topics are so important and where you can learn about the challenges we are all facing in the millwork industry.

Q: When you look back, what impact would you like to have had on the association and industry?
A: I would like to have impacted our industry by continuing to demonstrate the value of the AMD association and be seen as a mentor to many young individuals in the millwork industry.

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