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Do Things Right; Do the Right Thing

About 10 years ago, Robb and Russ Wilson were in a pickle. The plant manager at the Wilson Lumber truss shop had overpromised products to a customer — a fluke accident at the typically efficient factory. Instead of telling the homebuilder they messed up, a group of the higher-ups went over the factory and joined the other employees to help build the remaining trusses and wall panels.

Robb and Russ aren’t typical laborers at the factory — as seen by the story about how Robb almost killed the company controller with a triple-action nail gun that night. But that’s a tale for another day. Robb and Russ Wilson are the owners of Wilson Lumber who mainly focus on sales and business operations.

Still, being the boss didn’t stop them from getting dirty that night to help their employees finish the job on time, even if it meant working till 1 a.m. the next day.

Breaking promises isn’t an option for Rob, Russ and Mark Wilson. They’re the third generation of men to take over the company, and certain skills have been drilled into them by their fathers and grandfather.

“Logic would tell you that when you overpromise, sometimes you just can’t deliver,” Robb said. “I guess Granddad, Dad, Uncle Rick and Uncle Steve just pounded into us that not being able to make it just isn’t an option. You just don’t do that … No matter who does it, it has to get done.”

Third Generation Owners

There’s a healthy pressure for Robb, Russ and Mark. Most family-owned businesses fail after the third generation, so they are extra cautious to avoid things that almost always precede failure.

“I had to prove it to myself that I could do it,” Mark said. “One thing we’ve been able to avoid … is a sense of entitlement. Kinda like growing up with a big trust fund or growing up with your parents’ money or something like that, you can feel entitled to just walk in like you own the place when you haven’t done anything to earn it … That’s why I went off by myself for six years — just build some confidence, build some skills and know what I can do, and that way I was equipped when I came back to the company … (to be) able to contribute more than just what my last name was.”

Just like their devotion to keeping promises, humility and work ethic were pounded into the Wilson men at a young age. While Mark and Russ remember sweeping the showroom and dusting shelves, Robb has stories of working on the lumber yard and driving delivery trucks as a teenager.

Hey, it was a different time back then.

Holding so many positions at the company also gave the Wilson family a deep appreciation for the men and women who work in the lumber yard, door shop and truss factory every day.

“When you’ve done the work, then you appreciate the people doing the work,” Robb said. “For most of us Wilsons, there’s not a position that we haven’t done or done something really close to.”

Do the Right Thing

One story Robb remembers from his childhood happened when he was 17 and driving a lumber truck. He was loading it up and trying to figure out the best way to strap everything down when his grandfather walked up and said, “If you’re driving like you’re supposed to be driving, then you ought not have to tie it down.”

It didn’t take long for Robb to figure out what his grandfather meant: Don’t be in a rush, and do what you’re supposed to do.

“The main thing that they’ve tried to push down, and have pushed down, is to always do things right,” Robb said. “There’s two sides to that. One is always doing things right. The other is always do the right thing.”

Robb jokes that they all hated working with their grandfather because he was tireless. Even after his retirement, he went back to work in the door shop without pay to make sure everything was the most efficient it could possibly be.

Treating People Right

Russ Wilson tells that often-told story of a preacher who got a job at a new church, but before he started working there, he went to a service dressed like a homeless person and sat in the back to see how the other members treated him. When nobody at the church talked to him, the pastor knew he had a big problem on his hands.

Russ uses the story to describe how his father and grandfather ingrained in them the need to treat everyone the same way. The older generations of Wilson Lumber wanted to make sure anyone who came into their store was respected, no matter what.

“You treat everybody the right way,” Russ said. “You treat everybody with respect … I don’t care what they’re wearing, what they look like, what color they are. When they walk in, they deserve our respect, and you treat them that way.”

This lesson wasn’t so much preached as it was demonstrated. Russ, Robb and Mark saw how their grandfather and fathers treated everyone the same. To this day, people come up to the Wilson family and regale them with stories of how their grandfather treated them with kindness.

There’s one more lesson passed down from the Wilson Lumber patriarchs that all three Wilson men touch on: Family comes first. They’ve worked hard to cultivate a family-like atmosphere in their business and think of all their employees as relatives. When the day is done, the sales are made and the minor disagreements settled, all that matters is loving your family first and working hard second.

And we couldn’t agree more.

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