Profiles of the forward-thinking individuals at the helm of industry-leading companies.

Smart executives are those who take advantage of a down economy and use it to their benefit. They are willing to explore new opportunities in an effort to steer their companies through uncertain times. They think beyond current circumstances and plan a course for their company’s future. They don’t just react — they stride ahead.

On the following pages, you’ll meet the playmakers who have taken their woodworking companies and made them a household word. Their strategies may run the gamut — green certification and manufacturing, lean production techniques and niche market development — but what they all have in common is their ability to overcome today’s economic obstacles and grow their business.

They are woodworking’s market leaders.

Kevin Sauder, Sauder WoodworkingKevin Sauder, President & CEO, Sauder Woodworking

 Experience, determination and an unending supply of patience have provided Kevin Sauder with the flexibility and know-how to lead RTA furniture giant Sauder Woodworking through these tough economic times.

“I am better able to keep the current economic situation in perspective since I lived through the crazy RTA boom years in the late 1980s and the retrenching years since 2001. Also, raising two teenagers, including one with autism, has taught me patience and humility.”

It also has taught him how to persevere under great business pressure. Read More

Mark Richey, Mark Richey Woodworking & DesignMark Richey, President, Mark Richey Woodworking & Design

 A look at Mark Richey’s personal pursuits provides valuable insight into his business attitude.

“As an avid mountain climber and explorer, I have traveled a lot, seen many cultures and had many intense experiences,” Richey says. “That’s given me a lot of confidence and a unique perspective that has been invaluable.”

After starting out as a carpenter after high school, Richey worked in a harpsichord shop building fine musical instruments for William Dowd. At night, he studied architecture until finally beginning his own business building custom kitchens and furniture in the basement of his apartment. Now his company, Mark Richey Woodworking & Design, crafts and installs high-end architectural millwork. Read More

 

Bill Weaver, Canyon CreekBill Weaver, President & CEO, Canyon Creek Cabinet Co.

 With 36 years in the industry under his belt, Bill Weaver has experienced woodworking from the shop floor all the way up to the front office.

“Never did I envision at the beginning of my career that I would be where I am today,” Weaver says. “It has been a very rewarding career full of great experiences.”

Weaver says that many experiences have contributed to his success. “My father was a small businessman and I worked for him growing up,” he says. “This gave me a fundamental understanding of business, sales and marketing, and customer service. Starting in our industry on the shop floor and having a solid knowledge of the production side has greatly helped in the understanding of what can and can’t be done in a manufacturing environment, as well as kitchen design, selling and general management experience I gained along the way.”

Weaver joined Monroe, WA-based Canyon Creek Cabinet Co. in 1995 as vice president of sales and marketing. At the time, the company was small and on the verge of bankruptcy. The same year, the company changed from making low-end builder cabinets to manufacturing higher-end custom cabinets, a strategy he says helped improve the business. Read More

 

Andy Wilzoch, Premier EurocaseAndy Wilzoch, Owner & President, Premier EuroCase

 Andy Wilzoch may have left school early, but that has not stopped him from growing his company to be a leader in the store fixture industry.

From Premier EuroCase’s beginning as a 1,000-square-foot shop with a Powermatic 66, a drill press and hand tools in 1987, to the 200,000-square-foot shop with “more equipment than you should be allowed to have” that it is today, Wilzoch has been at the helm to lead the company to new heights of success.

“I use experiences — good and bad — as a tool to guide me in almost all decisions I make professionally and personally,” Wilzoch says. “I would have to say that confidence in taking risks based on previous experiences has been the key to success. I don’t beat decisions to death.” Read More

 

Mark Bernhard, Bernhard WoodworkingMark Bernhard, President, Bernhard Woodwork Ltd.

 Mark Bernhard must have sawdust in his blood. His father, Pius Bernhard, founded Bernhard Woodwork, and although Mark spent a couple of years outside the industry after college, he came back to woodworking in 1991 and has been at it full-time since.

Bernhard says the wood products industry is “a business unlike so many others. You actually create something, as opposed to just pushing paper around. This is what makes it so rewarding.”

Bernhard’s company creates high-end architectural woodwork, as well as store fixtures, which Bernhard says are not easy markets to compete in, particularly when trying to maintain quality in a market that is very cost conscious. Read More

 

Mike Carson, Closet WorksMike Carson, Founder & President, Closet Works Inc.

 Though he never intended to be in the closets industry, Mike Carson, founder and president of Closet Works Inc., has become a pillar of it over the last 20 years.

“One day at my dad’s house, in 1987, he showed me the white melamine closets he just had installed,” Carson says. “He suggested that since I liked woodworking, I should do closets. I had zero interest until he said, ‘I had one guy here for one day and paid him $1,500.’ At that moment I had an epiphany and started building closets.”

Carson started Closet Works, a custom closets business, in Chicago in 1987. Since then he has seen the business, and the industry in general, blossom. In 1999, Carson launched the National Closet Group, a professional association that brings together companies in the custom home storage and organization industry, and for more than six years grew a network of closet companies from 13 to 50, until stepping away from the group as president in 2006. Read More

 

Pernille Lopez, IKEAPernille Lopez, President, IKEA North America

 From former journalist and traveling salesperson to president of multi-billion-dollar retail conglomerate IKEA North America, the journey by Pernille Lopez to reach this point has been anything but typical.

Born in Denmark, she moved at the age of 23 to the United States. In Florida, she started her own business importing Danish-style accessories for sale throughout the Southeast. She soon entered the retail furniture market, working with the chain, The Door Store. A few years later she moved west, working at another furniture chain later purchased by IKEA.

Lopez began working at IKEA in February 1990, and quickly rose through the ranks of sales/marketing manager, to store manager and later human resources manager. She was named president in 2001. Read More

 

Kevin Kuske, SteelcaseKevin Kuske, General Wood Manager, Steelcase Inc.

 “Every day is a new experience and if you are open to learning, the experiences that make you better come every day,” says Kevin Kuske.

One of the earliest experiences that shaped Kuske involved developing a treatment for schizophrenia while working as a chemist at Eli Lilly. “Observing, listening and looking at the problem from the customer’s point of view made the solution obvious and the team passionately went home to launch all three [liquid, pill and patch] formulations,” he recalls.

“Eleven years later, these insights still help me. Perhaps more importantly, they also inspired me to insist that all of my teams spend time observing our customers, our dealers, our partners as much as possible, regardless of what part of the company they are in. This concept is the very foundation of innovation at Steelcase — the power of observation and design thinking.” Read More

 

Bill LePage, Simple FurnitureBill LePage, Vice President of Operations, The Simple Furniture Co. LLC

Bill LePage must be a quick learner, because in the short time he has been a part of the wood products industry he has achieved some impressive things.

“I had not envisioned having a career in the wood products industry,” explains LePage. “I was actually working for a large national retailer as its manager of construction and store design.”

The vice president that LePage reported to had left the company to invest in an RTA furniture concept and asked LePage for help. LePage joined the new company and focused on the prototyping and engineering of the first round of products. Read More

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