From the November issues of BPD and Merchant Magazines.
By Nick Fitzgerald, NAWLA Chairman
Take step back in time with me for a moment.
Robocop, Good Morning Vietnam, Dirty Dancing, and the first Lethal Weapon film were in theaters.
Iconic albums such as Michael Jackson’s Bad, The Joshua Tree from U2, and Appetite for Destruction from Guns N’ Roses were released.
Phil Simms, after winning Super Bowl XXI and being named the game’s MVP, was the first to utter the now-famous celebratory proclamation, “I’m going to Disney World!”
And, on October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6% in one day.
For a guy working his first career position in the financial industry, this was a defining and actionable moment in my life.
Not long after that day, which remains the largest single-day drop for the Dow, I had the opportunity to change the course of my career, and move to a more tangible industry. One I could see, smell, and feel. The forest products industry.
A company in Des Moines hired me, right around the time it was being acquired by Universal Forest Products. The following spring, in 1989, I began UFPI’s highly-revered training program, and soon began selling specialty products like pine boards, cedar, and redwood.
Just a couple of years later, an opportunity arose to move to pressure-treated work in Janesville, Wisconsin. I jumped at the opportunity to move to a new state and to sell pressure-treated lumber and other commodity items across the northern Midwest.
In Wisconsin, I fell in love with a lifelong Badger, Kim, and we started a family. In the late 90s, UFPI went through a restructuring, and with my wife and two children, we relocated to Union City, Georgia. It was then, in 1998, that I attended my first NAWLA Traders Market. By that time, my career had shifted to be more on the supply side of things, and as a buyer and purchasing manager, those meetings at Traders Market were invaluable to me in making connections and getting deals done.
Around 2007, knowing that I could contribute, and gain, so much more from NAWLA involvement, I reached out to a mentor of mine, the late Mike St. John, the vice president of sales for Pacific Woodtech and NAWLA board member at the time. He connected me with some additional folks, and I soon knew that becoming involved in the Education Committee was the best fit for me. In the span of just a few years, I became chair of the committee, then was invited to join the board of directors. During that time, NAWLA partnered with SmithBucklin for our management needs, and after 25 years at UFPI, I switched jobs to be branch manager with Building Products, Inc. (BPI) and relocated my family back to the Midwest.
Today, as I wrap up the honor of serving as NAWLA’s chairman, I’m thrilled with the progress the association has made in the last several years. Our membership is growing, even as our industry consolidates and the companies within it strive to be more efficient. It’s apparent that NAWLA membership is growing because of the efficiency and value we provide our member companies.
Our committees are active and strong. As chairman, I have immense trust in the individuals who serve in these capacities and have enjoyed learning from each of these groups and their volunteers.
NAWLA events continue to evolve and improve. We are identifying more qualified and engaging speakers than ever before, taking regional meetings to new cities, and upping our game with offerings at all our events.
No matter how you choose to engage, meeting people from all walks of this industry, at every level within companies is something unique to the NAWLA experience. For me, when I meet someone at a Traders Market, even if the deal isn’t ‘there’ immediately, it sometimes is there -- later on. I’ve had several instances where I’ve met someone, talked about their products or mine, and went about our days. Then, months or even years later, with a shift in vendors or suppliers, that chance encounter comes back to my head, and a new partnership is born. You may not use that connection immediately, but it’s there if and when you need it.
I’m also immensely encouraged and inspired by the younger generation now entering the business. I have learned that these emerging professionals have passion, grit, and innovation in their DNA – and I’m thrilled to see where they take our industry, and NAWLA, in the future. My only words of advice: Become involved. You can make it as intense or as casual as you like. Find a board member or a committee member you already know (you can find them listed on the NAWLA website) and talk with them. Or, call me. Really. If I can help someone move their career forward by growing their involvement in our association, it would be my pleasure. Don’t delay getting involved just because you aren’t sure how to start.
My own entré to the forest products industry was a bit circumstantial, and very much unexpected by me. I respect, and have learned so much from those of you who grew up in this business and are carrying on family legacies. But what I’ve come to appreciate is that this industry, no matter how you got here, is built on relationships. My success has been a result of the people I’ve met and the people they’ve been kind enough to introduce me to. Quite simply, everything about this business is personal. Many of you reading this are my colleagues, my business contacts, and truly my friends. Thank you for the honor.