Changes of Ownership by Dave LaRue

Baldwin Supply was founded in 1920. In the 1930s, two young men, Dick and Bob, met while working there. By the late 30s, the owner at that time is said to have enjoyed spending most of his time at his favorite bar.

His choices along these lines created an opportunity for Dick, Bob and the 3 other employees at Baldwin to take it over in exchange for paying off all its creditors.

The 4 of them made the deal and ran Baldwin successfully.

When World War II broke out, Dick and Bob were called to serve their country. Both served in the Army. Dick was a medic. Bob was a pilot. Dick returned at the end of the war having been field-commissioned as a lieutenant. Bob had flown hundreds of missions. After the War, Dick and Bob bought out their three partners. They had amazing chemistry and compatibility and ultimately worked as partners for about 50 years.

I came into the picture in 1973, the summer before my senior year in high school. I was dating Dick’s daughter, Cindy, whom I would soon marry. I worked hard at Baldwin for the next seven years.

Now, this next turn in the story was unplanned. Perhaps it was bound to happen with ambitious young people working in a family business. In the early eighties, Bob and Dick were still running Baldwin as 50-50 partners. Bob’s son Bill was working there by this point, too. Bill and I were at a similar crossroads. At the time, Bill felt it was his turn to take over as president of Baldwin. I myself was anxious to have a more significant position and had long had the goal of running and owning my own company.

When we brought up our ideas with Dick and Bob, they didn’t agree that handing it over to us was best move for the company. They told us no.

With bruised egos and no plan at all, Bill and I left Baldwin to start our own company. Dick and Bob said, “Good luck.” I was 24.

After a 20-month odyssey, I came back to Baldwin in 1982. Bill stayed at the company we’d started and continued to run a successful business. I believe his son is now the owner.

While Dick and I were able to put everything on the table and move past everything, Bill had worse fallout from his choice to leave. Bill’s departure had strained his relationships with his dad. They had only recently been able to speak to each other again when Bob died suddenly in 1990.

Not only did this cut off any chance of further reconciliation between Bob and Bill, but it led to an intense 2-year legal mess.

Bob and Dick’s buy-sell agreement had been written in the sixties and it wasn’t done well, even by the standards of the time. There was much left to negotiate in order to buy it from Bob’s surviving family. Now, Dick liked things done right; he always dotted every i and crossed every t, so when he unexpectedly found himself in this huge legal mess, it was one of the few times I ever saw tears in his eyes, the other times being at the birth of his grandchildren.

On a personal level, I’ve written before about how Bob and Bill’s experience profoundly influenced how I think about forgiveness, especially when compared to the forgiveness I received from Dick when I returned to Baldwin.

But on the practical side, seeing my father-in-law’s painful regret was a powerful lesson. This along with the rest of my experiences working through that episode taught me a concrete, unforgettable lesson about what buy-sell agreements need to include, and how very important this planning is. Not only do I pay close attention to how ownership is set up in the opportunities I pursue, but I also made sure to set up a good buy-in plan for my son so he would never need to go through the same hard learning.

Some changes you work to cause, some changes you plan against. Some changes you adapt to, and some changes you learn from. In 1992, Baldwin had one location. Today we have 10. We had 5 outside salespeople then. Today we have 38. Our average sales per salesperson is several million dollars higher than it was 28 years ago. My father-in-law sat at that desk, then I did, now my son does. Bob passed on, then Dick. So much has changed. And the changes keep coming.

The journey of how I came to own Baldwin Supply is one of the most important stories of my life, so I have revisited it and told and retold it from many angles and extracted many different lessons. As I continue to learn and grow and see more throughout my life, my memories and retellings reveal new and different details that draw me to new and different lessons.

Our past experiences—both positive and challenging ones—not only change us, but can, if we choose, drive us to learn and grow. But these experiences are only opportunities when we take the time to process them and make effort to identify and work with the lessons our lives reveal to us.

I encourage you to find or revisit moments in your life, the arcs of your story you can see as such, that you know still have lessons for you. Explore what they tell you about the challenges you face now. What can you see now in story that you couldn’t see before? Are there details you’ve skipped, or connections you’ve missed? Take a purposeful look back at the stories in your life that you already know are important. You’ll be glad you made the effort.




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