“Hire that kid if you want to, but he’s never going to make it,” is what Gerry Richardson’s first employer in the pole building industry said when Richardson applied for the job.
When Richardson stepped up to accept his Rural Builder Hall of Fame award at the ’08 Frame Building Expo, he not only proved that boss wrong, but he affirmed what many people in the frame-building industry know: Gerry Richardson made it. Indeed.
The owner of Hanover Building Systems in Abbotstown, Pa., he is well known and respected in the industry. But the road from there to here wasn’t an easy route, or a well-marked path.
After high school, Richardson considered engineering or architecture, but ended up studying electronics at The DeVry Institute in Chicago. After working in that field for a few years, he bounced to Mine Safety Research in Pennsylvania. Then, wanting to work in sales but not knowing how to go about it, he honed his speaking and presentation skills by joining Toastmasters. Soon, other Toastmasters members said, “We don’t know why you’re not in sales.”
Richardson joined Metropolitan Insurance’s sales force and did well until company workers went on strike. “I walked the picket line for one day and said, ‘Enough’,” Richardson says.
A job or two later, he answered an ad for a sales position with Umbaugh Pole Buildings in Ravenna, Ohio and, despite what his future employer said about him, got hired.
“I learned later that I was the only one who applied,” he laughs.
Building a new career
In ’74, he moved to Butler Buildings, and in 1982, when Butler announced it was closing some East Coast offices, after interest rates had gone “through the roof,” Richardson and a partner struck out on their own. Richardson, however, said he “started to see the veil lifting on the economy, that things were starting to pick up. So I decided to leave and put a small amount of money into a business.”
“I came home that night when Butler said they were closing,” he recalls. “My daughter, Robin, was doing homework in the kitchen and she said, ‘Dad, it’s time for you to start your own business’.”
“We never looked back,” he says. “Now that business pays me more every month than I put in to start it,” he says, with notes of gratitude and humility in his voice.
Having taken the leap into business during the economically challenging ‘80s, Richardson isn’t worried about the current echoes of those tough times.
“I’ve been here, done that and I’m not at all worried,” he says. “We’ve been through this four or five times and the economy’s always come back stronger than before. I don’t have a problem with that (uncertainty). “I’m a Christian and I know the Lord will take care of us.”
“We builders used to say, ‘Companies that aren’t strong will winterkill.’ The good ones will survive.”
Keeping up with change
“Information Age” changes in the post-frame industry since Richardson got his first look at it include computerization and electronic advances, CAD systems and post-frame’s strength in the commercial sector. “We can do so many more things and satisfy more needs than in the past and we will only get stronger,” he says.
On the flip side, there are big things to address, he says, such as “the code situations we have.” “The International Building Code (IBC) is the law of the land,” he says, “but of a conglomeration of codes, they took the most stringent.” He hopes to see codes written to reflect the strength, versatility and improvements that post-frame has seen over the years.
Richardson’s energy and optimism get him up early to tackle the day’s business. “It’s always changing, always a moving target,” he says. You never know what the next phone call will bring. There’s never a dull moment.”
Among his achievements, Richardson counts the strategic planning seminars that he and fellow NFBA leader Ken Kistler have presented over the years. He treasures the people he’s met, friends he’s made through the seminars and the success stories of those who took the seminar advice to heart.
“The world is your oyster,” he says. “You can take the industry wherever you want. There are lots of opportunities.”
“I have a couple people in the process of buying the company over the next couple of years,” he says. He expects them to eventually assume ownership “and take the company further than I ever could.”
Richardson’s own future opportunities include doing some missionary work for his church, traveling and enjoying life’s next big adventures.