October 14/21, 2019: Volume 35/Issue 8
By Steven Feldman
Vance Bell, chairman and CEO, Shaw Industries, was officially inducted into WFCA’s 2019 Hall of Fame class during its 60th anniversary celebration, held here last month. Bell, the 49th inductee, joins a distinguished list of industry pioneers and leaders who have earned this coveted honor.
Born in Macon, Ga., Bell attended Georgia Tech, and after graduating went to work for West Point–Pepperell before joining Shaw Industries in 1975. He was named chairman and CEO in 2006, succeeding Bob Shaw, the man who hired him back in the ’70s. During his decades with Shaw, Bell has worked in various capacities, from sales and marketing to manufacturing and operations. Shaw now boasts more than $6 billion in annual sales and has approximately 23,000 employees.
“The Hall of Fame is not about single events or simply an honor for those who participated; it is about celebrating those who have worked hard to support and grow our industry’s professionalism and the people who rely on this industry for their livelihood,” said Scott Humphrey, CEO of the WFCA. “It is a prestigious honor for those who have left a legacy for future leaders. I have personally been blessed to grow under Vance Bell’s guidance. His leadership brought vision, which he articulated with passion. His determination to make our industry the best it can be has achieved great success for Shaw and the entire industry.”
Bell was both overwhelmed and humbled by the honor. “I want to thank the WFCA board—first, for the time and the talent you put in with WFCA; it’s important to the industry. Second, for your heartfelt nomination and this process.”
He then recognized three people who were instrumental throughout his career. “I have to thank my wife, Jennie, who has been with me for 27 years, and I can absolutely assure you that none of this would be happening if not for her; she is my most important advisor. The other woman in my life, Judy Ellis, has been my administrative assistant for all but the first nine months of my 41 years at Shaw. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge and thank Bob Shaw for hiring me 44 years ago and bringing me into the industry. He showed confidence in me throughout my career at Shaw.”
Not surprisingly, Bell was quick to deflect the honor away from himself. “This recognition is not about me. It’s about all the people at Shaw Industries who surround me and support me every day. The thousands who are dedicated, passionate, service our customers every day and produce great results. I’m not that smart, but I know I could accomplish nothing without great people around me.”
Bell began his career working in the manufacturing plant for Cabin Craft. After two years, he wanted to get into sales. He had three offers: Cabin Craft, Jolly Textiles and Shaw. “Today, it looks like a no brainer; luckily it turned out well.”
Bell was about 22 years old at the time he joined Shaw and was quickly joined by what would become lifelong friends in Randy Merritt, David Wilkerson, Mickey Long and Julius Shaw. “We worked hard and had great friendships. We had great trust in each other, and these guys always had my back. We had no idea what we were getting into. We had no idea what kind of company we were going to work for. We had no idea what kind of people we were going to work with. We had no idea about the industry, but we all bonded so quickly. We got to work with wonderful people, and we got to be in a great industry where there is so much opportunity.”
Bell said never in his wildest dreams could he have written the script for how his career would turn out. Then, he made a request to attendees: “If you are going to be in this industry for the next decade or two, take care of it. Grow it responsibly, grow it profitably, make it healthy for the long term. Make sure we keep our credibility and integrity with our customers and end users and run your businesses where you can attract great talent into this industry. I want the next group of 22- to 23-year-olds that come into this industry to have the same opportunities, the same script that many of us had.”