President and CEO, The Buckner Co.
First of all, how was your winter in Salt Lake City?
We had lots of good snow this year. When you live 35 minutes from the ski slopes, you enjoy the skiing in the winter and the mountain biking in the summer and the hiking in the shoulder seasons. So it works out great.
Your grandfather, Elmer Ray Buckner, founded your business during the Great Depression? Did you get to know him?
Grandpa was a hardworking, his-word-is-his-bond, trustworthy kind of guy. He could look you in the eye and tell you he loved you and tell you what was wrong with you the next minute. You always knew where you stood with him.
You bought out your father and uncle and took command of the business in 1988, when you were 35. Was it always the plan that you would succeed them?
No. I had done a college paper that talked about the failure rate of third-generation family businesses, which was around 90%. When I came into the business, I said to my father and uncle, I’m nervous about whether this business will succeed. I wanted assurance, after three years of working there, that I would be the sole purchaser of the company. They, to my joy, agreed. It was pretty gutsy on their part.
What were some of the key strategic moves you made to build the business?
The first 10 years was just to make sure the company was on good financial ground. In the year 2000 we had 13 employees. Today we have 126. The growth has been through attracting quality producers and great support staff. We’re trying to find people who are in a culture that doesn’t work for them.
Tell me about your company’s culture.
What I ask from my producers is good hard work, great numbers, and impeccable integrity. And if you do that, you will be compensated well.
What have you learned that you could pass on to others?
I remember one time I was upset with an underwriter and had probably a rather terse phone conversation with him. My father came in and said, “Be conscious of the way you talk to people because you may need them again in the future.” Treat people with respect. You don’t have to agree with them, but you don’t have to treat them poorly.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
Probably how active my wife and I are. We’re very avid mountain bikers, skiers, hikers. There’s not much we aren’t willing to do. Caving in Budapest last fall was something we tried. We probably wouldn’t try it again, but we did it.
What’s the most interesting thing in your office?
A quote by Teddy Roosevelt: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows no victory nor defeat.” I love to dare mighty things.
What is something you never leave home without?
Lately it’s my iPad. It becomes my memory when my memory is a little weak.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my wife. She said, “Don’t put too much stock in your critics. You’re probably not as bad as they say, nor as good.”
You and your wife, Lynne, have seven children. Do you come from a large family?
It’s actually a combined family. I have three. She has four. I come from a family of five.
What has given you your Leader’s Edge in this industry?
My belief is that the best is yet to come. I believe strongly in the future of our industry, in the quality of the people. I think if people are given the chance to succeed, and the support behind them, it will benefit all of us.
The Buckner File:
Hometown: Salt Lake City
Family: Wife, Lynne; seven children, ages 34 to 21
Wheels: Weekdays, a Mercedes 500S series; weekends and snow days, a 2005 Ford Avalanche
Last book read: Decision Points, by George W. Bush
Last vacation: Prague, Vienna and Budapest last fall
Charities: Member of Board of Governors for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce; member of the Board of Trustees for Envision Utah, a smart-growth nonprofit organization