Our Wolf Wins the Big One, Against the Odds
Just less than a year ago an announcement was made over the normal media channels within our industry. To many it may have seemed like a long overdue promotion to the position of CEO. Certainly as an editor at Chain Store Guide, the announcement meant that significant changes had to be made to the company’s listing in our Building Products Distributors database. However to much of the outside world the possible ramifications were considerable. To the life of our industry, the history of said company should not be overlooked.
While the announcement opened with the promotion of Craig Danielson to CEO of a company simply now called WOLF, it was the man he was replacing who really brought the sizzle to the story. Danielson was succeeding Tom Wolf as CEO. Wolf was leaving his company to run for governor of Pennsylvania. Referring to it as his company is perhaps an understatement. Wolf had been the sixth-generation corporate member of the company’s founding family. The company had been established in 1843.
Leaving the top position in any prominent company is no easy task. Here, Tom Wolf was exiting a company founded by Adam Wolf more than 170 years ago. Two years ago, Chain Store Guide ran a year-long series on companies and trends which had affected the business landscape during each of the eight decades of CSG’s existence. Obviously the history of the company now called WOLF, began almost a century prior to Chain Store Guide’s founding in 1933.
Tom Wolf’s decision to run for governor is no less noteworthy than considering his company’s rich family history and corporate longevity. Despite being born into a notable family, Wolf is essentially a Renaissance man. He has degrees from Dartmouth (BA), University of London (MA) and M.I.T. (PhD). During his studies he served in the Peace Corps, spending two years in India working on agricultural and irrigation projects. Enrolling his children in public schools, Tom Wolf returned to work for the family business, initially as a forklift operator.
Later, he and two cousins took a considerable risk and secured a loan to buy the family business. Tom Wolf was named CEO. As corporate CEO, he turned the company into our country’s largest supplier of kitchen cabinets and a leader in offering specialty building products.
In 2006, then Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell appointed Tom Wolf to serve as Secretary of Revenue. Here, Wolf donated his salary to charity and refused to accept the perks of the office. He also initiated reforms which strengthened and protected the state lottery. These reforms ultimately resulted in millions of dollars in benefits for the state’s vulnerable senior population.
In 2009, while embarking on the early stages of a likely run for governor, Tom Wolf was the recipient of some very troubling news. It turned out that the company he had sold three years earlier was in danger of entering bankruptcy and perhaps shutting down. At this time of course, much of our industry was suffering the double whammy brought on by the subprime crisis followed by the resulting recession.
Wolf immediately abandoned thoughts of his gubernatorial campaign and used all the capital he had to buy back the family business. Determined to save jobs as well as the company, Wolf worked on the company’s long-held business model, moving it from being a distributor of traditionally sourced (including many Chinese) products to one which sources its own American-made cabinets.
As with many companies within our industry, the Wolf clan has long-viewed its employees as family. As the company began to turn things around, Tom Wolf insisted workers be fairly compensated, including receiving proper benefits. Keeping the concept of the employee as family in mind, the company returns 20-30 percent of profits back to its workers.
About a year ago, it was clear that Tom Wolf’s latest venture for the company had been a success and the gubernatorial campaign wheels again were engaged. To his credit, on Election Day this past November, Mr. Wolf a Democrat, was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Yes, he was elected as a Democrat during a national election which many called an electoral bloodbath for his party.
All these plaudits about this man come as no surprise to people who have dealt with his company over the years. More than two decades ago as the Chain Store Guide editorial team would contact this family-based company for annual updates of corporate data, we were warmly greeted and often the recipient of additional communications from enthusiastic executives. Most were issued to convey relatively rare changes of personnel, some announced new ventures. Corporate challenges were issued as openly as successes. This was sheer transparency at a time when the term was rarely so used.
In his victory, Tom Wolf defeated the Republican incumbent, Tom Corbett. At the same time another of our industry stalwarts, Mills Fleet Farm VP Stewart Mills, lost his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan, in the Minnesota’s eighth congressional district. This underscores all the more the improbability of Wolf’s victory.
Currently, WOLF is the largest supplier of kitchen and bath cabinetry in the U.S. and a major supplier of building products, actively serving over 4,000 independent dealers in 33 states coast to coast.