Tough Call: Broken down and wasting time

October 2017 Tough Call

The owners at your yard are reluctant to repair and replace.

October 2017 Tough CallUnlike many of your industry peers, you didn’t grow in the lumberyard, and initially had no interest in the building material business. But that changed after you spent a few years in corporate America.

You’d just graduated from college with a B.S. in Business Administration and a strong GPA. You had several job opportunities right out of college, and you took a position with a large consumer products firm. While your friends were jealous that you were working for a company that they’d actually studied in school, you were miserable. Rampant office politics, in-fighting and jockeying for favor with higher-ups to climb another rung up the ladder just weren’t for you. When given the opportunity to leave corporate America for a fast-track management position in the lumber industry, you jumped at it. The people you worked with did the right things for the right reasons. It was refreshing, and addictive. You’ve never looked back.

To learn the business, you naturally started in the yard—where much of the physical labor happens. Back then, the company took great pride in making sure that all equipment was well-maintained and in good working order. On those rare occasions when a forklift broke down, you recall the frustration of waiting for the repair—then scrambling to get everything done when you were back up and running.

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That was a dozen years ago, and things have changed a lot since then. You saw a lot of colleagues leave the industry, either voluntarily or not, and you stayed with the company during the recession. Even then, the company ownership knew that the yard operations were the engine of the lumberyard, and they did what they could to keep everything running smoothly.

Today, you’re the manager of operations for the same company—though a change in ownership in 2014 has meant big changes in business philosophy.

For example, the new owners don’t believe in investing in fundamental lumberyard operations. As a result, there are more forklift and equipment breakdowns, which leads to unplanned downtime for your workers, followed by a frantic effort to catch up. As you recall from your days in the yard, occasional equipment breakdowns are frustrating. Frequent breakdowns are demoralizing. The result has been much higher than normal turnover in these positions.

When you expressed your concerns to the owners, they remained unconcerned. As time has gone on, the market has improved, and there’s more money that could be re-invested in the company, you’ve become more frustrated at the inability to do your job—and worried about the future of the company. The OTIF (on time, in full) principle that helped the company grow has been unofficially replaced by a different OTIF (oh tomorrow is fine).

You know that you’ve lost a couple of long-time builder customers due to this lax attitude. And even that doesn’t impact their actions. At 35 years old, you want to be loyal to the company that brought you into this business, but you feel like you’re on a sinking ship. What would you do?

1. Stay Calm. The owners are savvy business people, and its almost certain that they’ll soon take notice of all the red flags, and make the necessary corrections.

2. Move On. Once this company goes under, which it will, you don’t want to be known as the head of operations for a failed operation. Leave and don’t look back.

3. Sound the Alarm. Share your concerns about the company’s future with the owners, and the fact that you can’t stay if they don’t take immediate action to right the ship.

4. Start Looking. Find a recruiter you can trust, and have them check if your skills and experience fit any of their clients. If yes, you have a strong card to play.


If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to If we publish your reply, we’ll send you a LBM Journal mug.

What would you do?

See how your judgment compares with others in the industry at
Final results will appear in The Buzz section of the January 2018 issue.

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