The June afternoon in 2007 that Ralph Boe was elected to the top spot at Beaulieu of America was marred by questions about the future of one of the world's largest carpetmakers.
As Boe prepares to depart for good in February 2014, he leaves behind a legacy of calm leadership during a stormy time in Beaulieu's history -- a period marked by tough decisions and shared sacrifice in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression
"There always comes a time in life in the company's cycle when they make a change," Boe said. "We'd already started a little of that putting in Nicolas Bouckaert, [co-owner Carl Bouckaert's son], in charge of the commercial carpet, and Karel Vercruyssen came down from Canada to take half of my role a year ago."
For the next 10 months, Boe and Vercruyssen will serve as co-CEOs as Boe transitions away from day-to-day operations. Vercruyssen formerly served as CEO of Beaulieu Canada before joining Beaulieu of America as president and chief operating officer in April 2012.
"I've had my 12 years with the business here," Boe said. "I figured it was time to go ahead and make this next step in the succession of the new regime and let the next generation come along to run the business."
When Boe took over in 2007, the Dalton, Ga.-based company's co-founders, Carl Bouckaert and Mieke Hanssens, had just been forced to step down as CEO and vice president, respectively, to comply with a $33 million federal tax evasion settlement.
Though neither co-owner was criminally charged, both were prohibited from managing Beaulieu's day-to-day operations as a result of a 10-year investigation that spanned six countries.
That left Boe, who Beaulieu hired in 2001 to manage its operations, alone at the helm, facing a downturn that would morph into a housing collapse later in 2007.
"When the industry started to turn down in '07 and '08 and bottomed out in '09, we went that way as well," Boe said. "But in the last year and a half we've been able to pull back again and we're on to much better times."
Beaulieu enjoyed several good years during the height of the single-family housing bubble, since a large portion of its product went into single family homes. Unfortunately, when that market almost disappeared overnight, Beaulieu's exposure to single-family housing became Boe's biggest challenge.
In an effort to stay afloat, the company instituted rolling furloughs and across-the-board pay cuts for all employees, shut down several plants and raised prices.
The moves, which were meant to be temporary, continued when the long-promised stimulus-funded housing recovery failed to materialize.
Boe ultimately saved more than 500 jobs through the pay cuts and furloughs, and gave the company a new lease on life when Beaulieu restructured its $230 million in debt. He also grew the company's interest in supplying carpet to the growing multifamily apartment market, which is growing far faster than traditional single-family home sales.
"I was able to help pull the company out from under a difficult time," Boe said.
He also embraced new technology. Boe introduced carpet that reduces bad smells and kills bacteria. He took a leading role in embracing polyester fiber, which is quickly replacing nylon as the preferred material for carpet. He kicked off a health craze in Dalton that caught on with competitors, through incentivizing workers to get healthy by offering reduced insurance premiums.
Boe himself is still healthy, north of 65-years-old, still working on his farm some weekends. Though he'll sign a noncompete agreement with Beaulieu and won't be able to work in the carpet industry, he still plans to keep active. He's not calling this a retirement.
"Perhaps I'll be looking at another industry or sharing my experiences in some other way, whether it be teaching, consulting or mentoring people," Boe said.
Vercruyssen, who earned a business engineering degree from the Catholic University of Leuven Belgium, is an operations specialist who has also worked in the semi-conductor, automotive and yarn industries.
"I am honored and look forward to taking the position of CEO of Beaulieu of America and continuing to work with our employees, customers, board, suppliers and communities to make this the best company for everyone involved, and increase our position in the industry," Vercruyssen said.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...