Industry News - Warren Spitz on the Challenges of the Moment and the Opportunities of the Future

Warren Spitz is the Founder, President and CEO of the UCS Forest Group of Companies. The business operates in the United States as Sierra Forest Products; in Canada as Upper Canada Forest Products; and, internationally, as UCS Global. UCS also owns A&M Wood Specialty, which is a company that provides unique hardwoods, softwoods, and veneer for specialized applications. Also under its umbrella is Toronto-based Frank Brothers Guitar Co. 

It's a lot to keep track of for this graduate of the University of British Columbia, who founded our company in 1986. But he had a good role model in his father, who ran several independent logging companies all through Spitz's youth in British Columbia. "I suppose I can say that sawdust runs in my veins," he said during the recent interview below:

NORTH AMERICAN BUILDING MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION ASSOCIATION (NBMDA): What you do see are our industry's one or two biggest challenges of the moment?

WARREN SPITZ: One of the most significant issues facing our industry today is the specter of ongoing global trade disputes and the resultant tariffs. These can and likely will have a lasting impact on global markets for U.S. domestic hardwood as they have for panel products and softwoods. The uncertainty this creates makes supply chain management much more difficult for both distributors and manufacturers. This situation remains fluid. It is a challenge for all businesses to make good decisions under this type of uncertainly. 

Another significant issue is trucking and logistics. Due to changes in the regulatory environment and the expectation of self-driving vehicles in the next 10 years, there is a significant shortage of drivers and capacity in the industry, which is resulting in much higher costs to transport material. 

NBMDA: Looking ahead to the fourth quarter and early 2019, what do you expect will be the opportunities?

WS: We are fortunate to be operating in an environment of historically low interest rates, low unemployment, a record bull run in the stock market, tremendous access to capital, and reduced corporate tax rates. So, it is therefore a very good opportunity for growth and business development in our industry. 

NBMDA: What makes your company stand out in the marketplace?

WS: We call it "Delivering the Difference" to our customers. We have a maniacal focus on our values – Professionalism, Integrity, Commitment, Innovation – which drive us in everything we do internally and externally. Our relationships with our customers, supply partners, and teammates are all governed by our values. We recently were acknowledged as a "Best Managed Company" by Deloitte for the second consecutive year, which is tremendous testament to our entire team. 

NBMDA: Have you recently implemented any innovative strategies or approaches that have paid off that you'd be willing to share?

WS: Our company is constantly evolving and changing, and we adhere to the principle of "fail fast/fail cheap/fail often," which is a way of saying, "Keep pushing the boundaries of innovation and don't be afraid of failure." We have always had a culture of continuous improvement, and people need to know that it is acceptable to try things and not worry if they don't always work out. 

We also have a strong sense of purpose in our company that is anchored by our commitment to a healthy and safe workplace; to sustainability; to diversity; to our community; and, lastly, to each other. We developed a culture of giving from day one and have always engaged our team. I like to think we have been as entrepreneurial in our community service as we have been in business. Just a few examples would include the creation of a large annual golf tournament for a Children’s Hospital while we were still a very small company; hosting a major gala with close to 1,000 people to raise money for the military and their families; hosting a large concert party to finance the building of a clinic in Africa; sponsoring refugee families; and, most recently, launching a Fellows Program for Indigenous women to attend business school. To promote further engagement, all our teammates across North America receive a paid day off annually to do a community service activity of their choice. 

NBMDA: Have you implemented any new or cutting-edge technology that is driving greater efficiency?

WS: We are constantly upgrading our technological capabilities. One example would be the recent launch of a sophisticated procurement-to-payment technology to manage costs and streamline the approval process.

NBMDA: What do you consider to be the favorite part of your job?

That’s simple for me – people! I truly love working with people. My business degree was in Human Resource Management. So, in that respect, it should come as no surprise. It is very exciting for me to see people develop and grow. Their spirit and desire to do good work inspires me. 

NBMDA: What do you still find challenging?

WS: In a positive way, I love the challenge that strategy offers. One of our board members calls it "the great game of business." It's not a game in a literal sense, as we take our mission and mandate very seriously as we do our responsibility to our people and their families. But having the opportunity to make decisions to maximize outcomes for our business is something I enjoy very much and am very grateful for. On the flip side, the challenges that we all face but can’t control – currency markets, trade issues, the economy, etc. – are things that we all simply have to manage through. 

NBMDA: Was there some advice given to you early on that has really stuck with you in your career?

WS: There was … from my dad and my father-in-law. Dad always truly believed in people and focused on their good side. He always saw the best in people. If one is able to do this, it is truly a gift. There is also a direct correlation between a manager's belief in his or her people and their performance. My father-in-law faced tremendous adversity in his life, from health issues since birth to losing his mother as a toddler. Yet he raised a large and loving family, achieved success in every aspect of his life, and I have never heard him complain. His lesson? Most challenges in life can be overcome with a positive attitude, and self-pity has little to no value. 

NBMDA: What advice would you give to young people who are new or are just entering our business now?

WS: I would advise them to always be authentic about who they are, be true to their values, and be honest with themselves about what they want out of their lives. It is the key to happiness. Also, take full advantage of any opportunities that present themselves with a positive attitude and a belief in themselves. Finally, always be grateful. Most of us won life's sweepstakes simply by where we were born and the education we received. Remember also that no one is successful alone. The list of people that have helped me in my life and career would take up this entire article and more. 

NBMDA: Finally, how has NBMDA been of value to you personally and your company's relationship with your suppliers?

WS: NBMDA provides us with a platform to connect with current and potential suppliers. It also brings industry partners and participants together for collaboration and idea exchange. The organization seems very focused on sharing the learnings derived from its member companies, therefore creating opportunities for members and the industry as a whole. We look forward to being an active participant for years to come.

Article provided by NBMDA Channel Connection, Warren Spitz on the Challenges of the Moment and the Opportunities of the Future, September 2018 Edition

Industry News - Warren Spitz on the Challenges of the Moment and the Opportunities of the Future

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