Just the other day, two stories came across my desk as I was updating the Building Products section of Chain Store Guide’s database of Home Centers & Hardware Chains.  One of the stories told of a momentous executive change for a nearly century old distributor.  The other reported on one of the most highly regarded franchises in the National Football League.  Technically they were not related.  However I saw an interesting common thread running through these stories, which I saw as a distinct reflection on the unique makeup of our industry.

Through much of my history with Chain Store Guide, I have worked in one form or another researching this industry.  In my early years I worked with seasoned editors, who generally displayed a profound regard for the intricate dealings of the citizens of this marketplace.  What intrigued me was how passionate most editors were when it came to discussing and analyzing the comings and goings of life within and surrounding this universe and its history.

I was also impressed by the smiles I continually saw as editors and writers simply contemplated the results of their work, looking at the past in an attempt to determine the future.  They seemed so connected to the challenges and successes of the companies they were covering and perhaps more strongly, to the people populating companies big and small, often with considerable longevity.

Several of these editors were colleagues at Chain Store Guide.  Others worked for our affiliates, while still others were members of the press whom I got to know well while attending several national trade shows.  They worked almost intimately with industry movers, often knew them well and showed through their writings and demeanors, the respect they had for the people they covered and the jobs they did.

These histories are by no means limited to just a few companies or even top players.  It seems every month there is a story or two about a long time executive or employee retiring after decades of service to just one company.  While most such stories reflect executives or company owners and founders, many reflect on a key mid-level employee, whose value is nearly impossible to replace.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League have a well-earned reputation for being uber-loyal to their fans, their many storied players and especially to their head coaches. Their three most recent head coaches have managed from the sidelines for the past forty four consecutive seasons and counting.

Their current head coach just completed his seventh season in that capacity with the Steelers, became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl during his third season with the club and is just turning 42.  Of course the successes of these coaches over forty four seasons, including six Super Bowl titles, speaks volumes as to how they have maintained such rare longevities in a profession where experts say that as soon as you are hired, you must prepare to be fired.

While the Steelers can boast of maintaining a record of successful stay-put head coaches, assistants are often another story.  While some assistants have their stint of head coaching behind them and others don’t aspire to the top spot, many Steeler’s assistant coaches and coordinators have indeed left the fold looking for greener pastures.

Current Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin’s Super Bowl squeaker of a victory came against the Arizona Cardinals under their second year head coach, Ken Whisenhunt.  Whisenhunt was hired by the Cardinals just one day after the Steelers hired Tomlin.  Whisenhunt, then a Steelers coordinator had lost out to Tomlin for the Steelers head coaching job and delivered the previously hapless Cardinals franchise to its first and thus far only Super Bowl appearance.    The current head coach at Arizona too, is a recent Steeler coordinator, alum.

What makes the story of our industry all the more remarkable, is that our leaders and assistants stay on board for seeming eternities and are rhapsodized on their always ’untimely’ departures.  Recently industry mainstay, distributor Patrick Lumber announced that its board of directors had elected Dave Halsey to succeed Jim Rodway as company president.   Both gentlemen have a great deal in common in terms of service to the company and the industry.

Rodway has dedicated his entire career to Patrick Lumber. He joined Patrick immediately upon graduating Oregon State University in 1979.  He rose to the company’s presidency in 2001.  He was just the company’s fifth president.  Patrick was founded in 1915.  The company’s previous president, Bob McCracken, had held the position for the previous 25 years.

Halsey, too, has spent his entire career in this industry, since graduating from Oregon State in 1986. He ultimately joined Patrick Lumber in 1997. He was part of a group, including Rodway and current Chairman, Patrick Burns, which purchased the company from the previous administration headed by than president McCracken, in 2001. Since then he has served a corporate vice president and perhaps president-in-waiting.  Needless to say, Halsey and Rodway will work closely together to ensure a smooth transition. This is expected to last virtually until the company celebrates its centennial, early next year.

One year at the National Hardware Show, I met with representatives of two Chain Store Guide clients, at their respective booths, just two aisles apart.  Both of these young executives were the thirty- something sons of their company’s founders.

At the start of each meeting, I received a warm greeting with an introduction telling me that I was witnessing a long-term, evolving right-of -passage.  Each son was representing the company his father had founded, each for the first time at the show.

Almost as striking was how evident it was how much each son had learned from their father.  Though both had graduate degrees, they each indicated they preferred their dad’s old-school ways of studying and approaching the industry and competition.  Their apprenticeships were long and arduous.  In this industry, success must be studied and earned.

After all this market has endured, surviving through the subprime disaster and then the spirit crushing recession, it is clear that this industry does prize hard work, dedication and longevity.