This week kicks off the first in a series of member spotlight podcasts! The second week of each month we will be profiling one of our member companies. This week features Mike Dykstra, the CEO of Zeeland Lumber, a fourth-generation family business that started in WWII selling ration boxes and wooden pallets. Mike married into the Vanden Bosch family and started working for the company in 1994. Please listen as he takes us through the family history, the company’s commitment to the community, and a tornado that destroyed the company’s Wyoming facility in 2014 but opened up new opportunities with it.
Diana: [00:02] This is Diana Schad, CEO of Family Business Alliance. Joining me today is Mike Dykstra, CEO of Zeeland Lumber and Supply Company. What year was Zeeland Lumber started in?
Mike: [00:11] Zeeland Lumber began in 1947.
Diana: [00:14] Ok, and do you have a website?
Mike: [00:15] We do, www.zeelandlumber.com. All lowercase, no space.
Diana: [00:20] Ok, and how many generations are currently involved in the business?
Mike: [00:24] We have two generations currently involved in the business.
Diana: [00:28] What generation is leadership?
Mike: [00:31] The leadership is the fourth generation.
Diana: [00:33] Fourth generation! Okay, well that leads to my first question. You have an interesting history with the company, could you tell us a little bit about Zeeland Lumber, and the history of the organization?
Mike: [00:43] Yeah, so in 1947 my wife’s great grandfather, John A. Vander Bosch began Zeeland Lumber and Supply on the corner of Church and Washington in Zeeland Michigan, and we began this business as a solution to making palettes and shipping crates, mostly for the post-war building period. Shipping crates shipping to Europe after World War II. When that industry dried up, we had a bunch of wood, and he figured the best thing to do was to turn it into a retail lumberyard, so we started selling retail lumber in the building industry at that time.
Diana: [01:27] And how have things changed over the years? The company has evolved over time.
Mike: [01:34] Over the years, we grew as the home building business grew here in West Michigan. I began the business in the mid-nineties, which was a very robust time in the housing industry. We had a desire to be more than lumber, more than just framing packages, commodity lumber, 2×4’s, and OSB panels, and plywood and so on, so we made a concentrated effort to start selling non-framing products; windows, doors, exterior products, roofing, siding, decking, cabinetry, and just became a very reliable and trusted source for lumber and building materials in the West Michigan market.
Diana: [02:18] When it started before, do you know how many employees started back in 1947?
Mike: [02:23] Less than half a dozen.
Diana: [02:24] And how many do you have today?
Mike: [02:26] Over 450.
Diana: [02:27] Over 450! All in the West Michigan area, or are you expanded?
Mike: [02:31] No, we have expanded. What happened in 2010, in the depths of the recession we decided we should expand our geography and expand our business from strictly a lumber and building material yard, which is basically a distribution business, and get into the value of design and manufacturing, and that is when we started our wall panel division.
In 2010 we had 100 employees in one location, in Zeeland, MI doing that primary business activity of lumber and building material dealer. Currently, we have over 450 employees in six locations. Our location in Zeeland, here in Grand Rapids, two locations in Indiana, one in Elkhart, one in Mishawaka near the south bend area, and then in the Eastern Michigan market serving the Detroit area in Waterford, MI and in Novi, MI. Four of those were start-ups, Greenfields we bought property and began operations and one of them was and acquisition. So, we have grown incredibly in the last few years since the recession.
Diana: [03:45] Pretty much quadrupled in about eight years!
Mike: [03:47] Mm. One of the major thrusts that was when we merged with a competitor at the time, Hamilton Lumber and Truss in 2009 and that got us into the truss business, so we expanded that in many ways. We are still majority family owned, but we have a minority partner, CHS, who has been purchased from Hamilton Farm Bureau, and that is how they became a partner of ours, as a minority partner.
As far as the family business, we are four a generation family out of 450 employees, there are only four of us that are in the family or related to the family, and as I indicated before, I am the in-law, so I have a bit of a different version of how I arrived in the family business. But it’s been super rewarding and a really incredible journey.
Diana: [04:43] Can you expand on that a little bit? About how as an in-law how you got involved in the business and how you progressed to a leadership position?
Mike: [04:51] In my summers of high school and college I worked for several contractors, so I knew a little bit about the construction industry. Then, my wife and I, after we were married we moved away from the area. Then, my father-in-law approached me and said, “Would you like to get involved with the family business?”, so I did something that I said I would never do in college, to live in Zeeland and work for my father-in-law.
Both of those decisions have been well worth it. I started in the business literally doing customer service, inside sales, purchasing, product management, sales management, operations management, then in 2010 our board of directors wanted to make a leadership transition. As my father, Herk, was leaving to semi-retirement, so they interviewed several people, myself included, so I was happy to be promoted to president in 2010, and then president and CEO in 2012.
Diana: [05:58] One thing that was interesting that we were discussing before you came in was that you had quite a disaster occur in 2014, which would have been shortly after you took over as CEO. Can you tell our member a little bit more about that?
Mike: [06:10] That is correct. At our location here on Clay Ave in Wyoming, the city of Wyoming, just off 54th and Clay, that’s where trust and wall panel manufacturing is located in the Grand Rapids market. In July of 2014 we were hit by a tornado that went through this area. It totally wiped out our building, it was a very narrow path, it didn’t hurt our neighbors on either side of us, it did take out the dog kennel across the street. It wiped out our entire office and manufacturing building.
Through it, we were blessed in many ways. #1, we had a third shift team of employees working at the time, and none of them were injured. They did what they were trained to do, which was go under the big trust table and the roof collapsed on the table that they were under. It was a very traumatic situation, but they were unhurt in any way. We recently had just started up our Elkhart facility, we transported team members to that facility, because we weren’t to capacity there, so we could keep production [going]. Then, we rebuilt here a much bigger and better building than we had before with some new equipment, some increased capacity in our production, and a very nice new office. We went from 3,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet in the office space. Through it all, we didn’t lose any customers or any team members from our employee team.
Diana: [07:41] That’s amazing that you were able to keep things seamless with such a tragic thing happening like that, thank goodness nobody was injured. Which is amazing as well.
Mike: [07:49] It was amazing, it was very chaotic and very much a leadership challenge. But, all of our leadership team really rallied around doing the right thing and putting in the extra time and effort to take care of our customers, to take care of our team members and work the new building plan. It really all worked out in the end, it was kind of a blessing in disguise.
Diana: [08:11] It is a beautiful building, we are here right now.
Mike: [08:12] Thank you.
Diana: [08:13] I wanted to switch gears a little bit to talk a bit about the family business aspect. I know that you have some college age children, or recent graduates. What has your experience been engaging the next generation in the family business?
Mike: [08:26] So far, all three of my children have worked at Zeeland Lumber during some course of their high school career or into the college summers with those kinds of jobs. None of them have engaged with the business beyond that. We made an agreement that any of my children would need at least three years outside of the family business before thinking about getting back into the business, and they would want the same thing. Then, it would be based on position availability and merit, as far as getting a position. However, I will say, we are more a family owned business than a family managed business.
As I mentioned, we have four family members in the entire business of a total of 450 employees, and only two of us are on the senior level leadership team of say, our 18 leaders. I don’t know exactly what the future would bring. I would never force my children, or any other family member’s children into the family business. If there is a right fit there, there is, it will happen naturally one way or the other. I will say, our dynamic is more family ownership than family managed. Which helped me in a way to be the in-law and be able to earn my way into the position that I am. So, yeah, it’s good.
Diana: [09:56] Was there a history with the company with that? More family owned than family managed, or is that more with this fourth generation that that has become common practice?
Mike: [10:04] That’s a great question. I think that really turned from the third to the fourth generation. When I began at Zeeland Lumber in 1994 there was a management team of roughly seven of us, and five, maybe six, it changed over the years, but almost all of them were somehow related to the family. That has really changed in the last 20 years, and I would say that yes, most of that changed going from the third to the fourth generation.
Diana: [10:34] Interesting.
Mike: [10:34] It’s really interesting when you look at family business. We have recently networked with the family business consulting group. The percentage of family businesses that make it beyond the fourth generation, or even beyond the third generation into the fourth, is less than 4%. We are in new times in uncharted territory, we are growing and learning, so we will see where it goes.
Diana: [10:59] It’s a testament to the generations before you that you have succeeded this long, which is wonderful.
Mike: [11:03] Absolutely.
Diana: [11:04] So what do you like best about being a part of a family business?
Mike: [11:10] I believe that it is very rewarding to know who you are working for. Like any industry, leading a business is challenging. We have a lot of great things going for our customers and our team members, but knowing the ownership, who they are and what their core values are, and the alignment that we have is very rewarding and important. I believe it helps us be successful.
Diana: [11:45] Do you market the fact that you are a family business or is that just an interesting side note?
Mike: [11:51] We don’t actively market it.
Diana: [11:52] Okay.
Mike: [11:54] But, our customers know it, and have increasingly as some of our competitors have been purchased or bought out by private equity or have other ownership arrangements, some customers notice that we are locally owned, locally invested in the community, family owned. It means something. But, we don’t really actively market it, but it is conversational.
Diana: [12:23] People know about it. You just mentioned something about being active in the community, and one of the things that struck me when I met you for the first time, and I met Jodi for the first time, was how active you and Zeeland Lumber have been in the community. So, can you talk a little bit about some of your efforts in the community, and specifically the Transform Lives initiative?
Mike: [12:43] Yeah, for sure. Again, that comes from a long line from the Vanden Bosch family tradition of giving back to the community through business. That’s one of these core values that we are aligned with, and I believe it means something. We believe that we are here to serve one another and make a positive difference in the communities that we serve. We do that through various financial gifts, through a charitable giving committee that we have. Recently, we added what we call our Transform Lives initiative. What that is, it is an employee volunteer program where your employee team members are allowed up to one full day, 8 hours, of paid time off to be a part of a team to work in the community with a pre-approved nonprofit.
It is just another way of giving back and giving back our time and allowing our team members to get involved in something and be paid to go do a volunteer experience. The benefits are immense, from a team building aspect, having our team members out there together working on a project, from a service aspect. Everyone has a different heart when you are serving others. That transforms people as well. For the sake of “we can help make a difference” with these various non-profits in the communities. We do a lot of different projects, and we are looking forward to doing a lot more.
Diana: [14:24] Wonderful. A last question, looking at all that your family has accomplished and all that you have done in the community, how do you think that the founders would feel about where you all are now and what you have achieved?
Mike: [14:37] That is an interesting question. I believe they would be proud and they would feel like the hard work that they began and the entrepreneurialism that they had in the beginning actually made a difference for generations. I hope they feel like the impact that those early years of had was worth it see all of the lives impacted and transformed with our team members, with our customers, and in the various communities [where we serve]. I also think there would be a little bit of a sense of awe. A sense of what they began has become probably much larger than what they probably had ever envisioned.
Diana: [15:22] I can imagine, especially with the increase in the number of employees, that is just incredible. Well, is there anything else that we should know, or that our listeners should know about you or Zeeland Lumber before we close?
Mike: [15:34] No, I think we covered it!
Diana: [15:35] Okay, well thank you so much for joining us, it’s been a pleasure talking with you today!
Mike: [15:39] Alright, thanks a lot Diana, I appreciate it.