The Whitley file Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Born: Birmingham, Ala.

Education: Business degree, Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University — San Marcos)

History: Ranger Steel Services LP was founded in 1958 by Whitley’s father, Roy. Whitley worked at his father’s company during the summers while still in school, and his first full-time job at Ranger was as a warehouse worker beginning in 1971. He was named president of the company in 1984.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Don’t be afraid to make a decision. I could relate several instances throughout the years where I hesitated, and it ended up costing me money. Age and time has taught me that lesson. I tell my top management people to make a decision, and when you make a decision, make the best decision you can make. Make sure the decision won’t put us out of business or do detrimental harm to the business, but if it’s still a wrong decision, we’ll move on from there and make others. Nobody will be chastised because they made a bad decision. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my role, too.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

Stay plugged in to your industry. You have to have people skills; you have to listen. Don’t distance yourself as a lot of top people do. Stay plugged in to the industry. We’re a midsize company, so I find I’m better off if I learn a lot of this stuff directly from customers instead of reading it in reports. I like unfiltered information.

What universal truths have you learned about leadership?

Have integrity, be fair and be honest.

What is your definition of success?

To have a successful company with a successful group of people. I was the architect here, but this company has been successful because you had a lot of people who built the place. There are a lot of people who have made this company successful, and you can’t forget about those people. So success to me is to have a successful company you can be proud of, to be proud when you mention to other people that you work there.