The Nation file Featured

5:20am EDT October 29, 2004
Born: 1947, Spartanburg, S.C.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree, elementary education, Florida Atlantic University

First job: In a car wash

Career moves: While in college, worked for a Richards Department Store (a division of City Stores) in Miami in the warehouse, became a truck driver, supervisor in marking room (where price tags were attached). Became warehouse manager at age 23, assistant furniture buyer, mattress buyer, then branch store manager.

Went to work for the Spring Air licensee in Florida, a company later bought by Bassett Furniture Industries. Held a number of management positions over 13 years. Moved to Chicago to work for the Sealy Mattress Co. handling Sears. Moved to Spring Air in 1990 to head up the national account sales; in 1995, became president and CEO.

Resides: Burr Ridge

What is the greatest business lesson you've learned?
If you tell customers what truly is the best thing for them to do and what is in their best interest, you will get more than your fair share of the business. It's an honest values question.

If you treat people fairly and you tell them what you honestly believe is in their best interest, you will get rewarded for it.

What is the greatest business challenge you've faced and how did you overcome it?
As a very young guy, working for Richards Department Store, I was instrumental in defeating an effort by the Teamsters Union to organize the truck drivers, which was a pretty difficult task for a kid 23 years old. I was successful doing that.

Certainly, I was successful in positioning Spring Air as a major supplier to large retail customers. They were challenges that became very great opportunities.

Whom do you admire most in business and why?
Warren Buffett. The admirable thing he does is buy good businesses that are relatively simple businesses, but he focuses on a very small number of them; he doesn't spread himself too thin.

His ability to focus on a few winners is commendable; he's not about how many companies he can own. (Spring Air is not in his portfolio, but) I'm open if he wants to talk about it.