People Making A Difference 2021

HomeFeatured PostPeople Making A Difference 2021

Industry leaders, unsung heroes recognized

Factory workers, CEOs, tradeshow organizers and scientists developing COVID-19 vaccines. These represent a few of the names on FCNews’ annual “People Making a Difference” list—an annual tribute to those going above and beyond the call of duty.

The list includes familiar names to the flooring industry—executives and CEOs—as well as those flying under the radar and even some with no connection to flooring. Regardless of affiliation or title, however, these honorees made a big difference during extraordinary times.

Among those honored is a flooring legend who spent a career creating synthetic fibers and turning them into plush, beautiful carpets and now is taking the same genius to deconstruct the carpet without it ending in a landfill. Another honoree tends to the daily activities of the Floor Covering Industry Foundation to help provide benefits to families with life altering medical crises—certainly apropos in the age of COVID-19. FCNews also recognized individuals outside the industry for their roles in developing life-saving vaccines.



To know him is to love him—and vice-versa. More than a salesman as his title implies, Jay Kopelson is a true friend to everyone he meets. He personifies the phrase “never met a stranger” and connects with people instantly in a way that mystifies even the most seasoned executives.

“Jay’s love of people is the key to his success,” said Zack Zehner, president of Mannington Residential. “He really and truly loves engaging with people. His relationships with our customers keep him energized. And he remembers everything—their birthdays, anniversaries, kids’ names—you can’t learn those things in training classes. Jay was born with it.”

Jay has been with Mannington for 29 years, all of them in sales. For the past 20-plus years, his signature Jay’s Basement event at Surfaces has drawn accolades for its huge success as well as huge crowds rushing to the Mannington booth at the opening bell on the first day of the show. An extrovert’s extrovert, Jay has appeared on stage in front of thousands of customers dressed as a Vegas-style Elvis or a straitjacket- wearing Hannibal Lecter.

Keith Campbell, chairman of the board, has seen Jay in action. “His dedication to customers is something very special. He puts everything he has into those relationships and it’s 100% genuine. Jay is what Mannington’s values are all about.”

Betsy Amoroso is senior director of corporate communications for Mannington Mills



Two individuals who have played a key role in the flooring industry are Barbara Stroup and Lori Kisner, managing partners of Market Maker Events (MME). Barbara and Lori are behind the engine that makes this all-female company move forward. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the future of trade shows was suddenly uncertain. With over 70 years of event and crisis management experience between the two of them, Barbara and Lori were prepared to use their expertise to overcome this hurdle.

When producing tradeshows during a pandemic, timing, flexibility and collaboration are everything. Barbara and Lori dedicated their time and energy to discussing safety protocols and researching best practices before deciding to move ahead. As seasoned professionals, they were able to strategically plan the production of the 2021 Flooring Markets with safety top of mind after watching similar-sized and larger events convene safely with no outbreaks reported.

At the end of the day, flooring is a tactile experience. Products need to be touched and seen in person. As industry forerunners, Barbara and Lori knew the success of flooring retailers and vendors depended on having the opportunity to conduct business safely face-to-face. Barbara and Lori continue to monitor the current situation of the pandemic with diligence and professionalism.

The Flooring Markets in Atlanta, Dallas and Biloxi are currently happening as live events with strict safety measures in place. Buyers and vendors thank Barbara and Lori, and the [MME team], for their leadership and dedication in the return of in-person regional markets. The industry is in good hands with Barbara and Lori behind the wheel.

Samantha Baker is marketing manager, Market Maker Events Partners

Factory workers: UNSUNG HEROES

Foss workers, from left: Josh Agan, Jerome Tucker and Michael Long

Factory workers in the flooring industry are accustomed to working under tough conditions—from the heat and humidity of a Georgia summer to the tedious work required during an eight-hour shift.

At the height of the pandemic, scores of factory workers became flooring’s version of front-line workers. Rather than shirk from their duties, these essential workers became the unsung heroes of the flooring industry, showing up to work and ensuring that products left the warehouse in good condition.

Over the course of 2020 and into 2021, many flooring companies recognized the personal sacrifice of its factory workers. One of those companies was Foss Floors. “What is the lifeblood of the company?” Kevin Nassar, executive VP, asked. “It is our workforce. We are a manufacturing company, a boots-on-the-ground kind of company, and we need them. My dad (A.J.) has run a lot of companies over his career and would often tell me, ‘You can’t do anything without your people.’”

Sometimes leaders are not CEOs or presidents of companies; sometimes they are factory workers, ordinary people who come to work every day and make a difference in the success of their company.



After a successful career in investment banking, Raj Shah, alongside his brother, Rup, joined the family business in 2003. It was important for his parents, Manu and Rika, that Raj understand an employee’s perspective before leading MSI. They believed a good leader must experience the manager/employee relationship.

It is an experience Raj has taken to heart as he leads our great company to over $2 billion in annual revenue and more than 2,000 employees. I have known Raj for more than 15 years. At the core, Raj is a very humble leader. His inclusive nature makes every employee feel they play an integral role in shaping MSI. Despite his impressive background and wealth of knowledge, he is the most approachable and accessible president that I have had the pleasure to work with. Before settling into his office every morning, Raj interacts with warehouse and office staff to understand challenges and opportunities. He routinely mentions “our employees always have the answers to complex issues, just ask them for the solutions.”

Many leaders have solid business acumen. Raj has what I refer to as “creative business acumen.” He has the uncanny ability to offer a creative perspective regardless of the challenge and then collaboratively finds a simple solution. His vision is grounded on staying true to MSI’s core purpose of making dreams attainable and fostering a culture of respect and teamwork. This has never been more evident than during the pandemic. MSI handled this difficult situation with grace and never wavered from protecting its employees. Raj continues to make a profound impact on MSI, our associates and customers. It is a pleasure to work alongside such a passionate leader that allows all our voices to be heard.

Al Pacheco is senior vice president at MSI

Michel Vermette: BUILDER OF TEAMS


Someone once asked me to describe what kind of leader Michel Vermette is, and without even thinking I said, “He’s the toughest boss I’ve ever worked for, but I wouldn’t want to work for anyone else.” I think if you could go back to ask Michel’s direct reports, you would find most agree. That’s because when you work for Michel, you learn something every single day and you know you are doing your best work.

He is a talented business leader who builds exceptional teams. His ability to spot and develop talent has led to the achievement of “inexplicable success” (one of his favorite sayings), beyond what many thought possible in themselves.

Michel started his career in finance and accounting, and he has since proven to be a successful leader of sales, product, operations and marketing. Nicknamed “Captain Chaos,” he is never afraid to wade into complicated waters and change things up if necessary. His fearless approach to getting things done can be met with initial resistance but after assuring his team that “sometimes the tortured path is the correct one,” he’s in the trenches with you, and success typically follows.

Michel brings passion and energy to work every day, and while he demands excellence, he leads by example in everything he does. He is closely aligned with every functional area in the company. He knows the people, the process and the products. Not only does he listen, but he also remembers—often catching people off guard with his uncanny recall for past conversations.

So, why does such a challenging manager command such unmatched loyalty? No matter where you line up with Michel, you always know where you stand. He speaks honestly and shows genuine concern when he needs more from his people. I spoke to several past Armstrong Flooring colleagues after he joined as the CEO and told them they had just won the lottery. With Michel at the helm, there are some very good days ahead for Armstrong Flooring.

Dave Thoresen is senior vice president, product and innovation officer for Armstrong Flooring

Jason Goldberg: THE VISIONARY


To tell Jason’s story, I sat down with two long-time America’s Floor Source employees—Tim Henson, divisional president; and Chris Howell, CFO.

Here are their thoughts.

What makes Jason uniquely Jason?

Howell: His passion and drive are obvious. But his loyalty, compassion and probably his creativity are what make him—and America’s Floor Source—special.

Henson: I came here 17 years ago because I believed in Jason’s vision of what a flooring company could be. Early on, I’d sometimes question my decision. We were in this warehouse behind a church and the ceiling leaked onto the folding table that was my desk. But every day, I’d see more evidence that his vision was becoming a reality.

How has Jason’s leadership brought this vision to life?

Howell: Jason sets the direction and then allows his people to do their job, learn and grow. But he’s not above stepping in to help. I’ve seen him work full days in the warehouse or meet with the smallest clients or prospects to help resolve issues. He’ll do anything to help the company, our customers and his people.

Henson: He is 100% committed to his people. He reads every employee’s monthly report on goals and successes, and he responds to their suggestions, confirming their value and contributions to the company.

What else should people know about Jason?

Henson: He’s a good person who lives by his core values and strives to always do the right thing. He gives people second chances—and often third and fourth chances. He wants them to succeed in whatever way they measure success.

Howell: He shares the rewards of our company’s success with the entire team, and he helps his people in whatever way he can—much of which happens behind the scenes with no fanfare. He also supports a number of charities, specifically In Christy’s Shoes, an organization that helps women experiencing homelessness, unemployment, domestic abuse, substance issues and human trafficking.

Brad Dresbach is chief branding officer for America’s Floor Source



Great leader. Sheer genius. Rarely do you encounter both qualities in the same person. I first met Ralph at Beaulieu America, shortly after the Bliss carpet brand had been launched. He was already a legend in the flooring industry and proceeded to lead the company through the dark days of the Great Recession. While others were shuttering plants, Ralph was “rolling right-sizing” to keep folks employed. While others were struggling with rising health care costs, Ralph instituted a “million-mile challenge” to keep everyone physically fit by walking every day.

But the best was yet to come.

With a PhD in chemistry, Ralph spent a career creating synthetic fibers and turning them into the plush, beautiful carpets we take for granted. Now, this same genius that perfected polyester carpet fiber set about to deconstruct it. With Ralph’s leadership and ingenuity, his new company, Arropol Chemicals, has developed a practical use for reclaimed polyester fiber by recycling it into polyol—an essential ingredient used to make urethane. Now, post-consumer or post-industrial polyester carpets and fibers need not go into landfills. Instead, they can find new life as the ingredient to make the urethane foam that cushions furniture, underlays flooring or insulates homes. His polyols can even create rigid, lightweight urethane paneling for cargo truck linings or decking for roof construction.

Every industry needs great leadership that cares about and inspires people. Every industry also needs a creative genius that is never satisfied with the status quo. In the floor covering business, we are very fortunate—we have Ralph Boe.

Paul Friederichsen is marketing consultant for BrandBiz



Andrea singlehandedly tends to the day-to-day business of the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF). From promoting the benefits that the foundation can provide to families with life-altering medical crisis, to receiving and processing grant applications and ultimately the distribution of financial help, Andrea does it all.

It’s obvious to people who meet Andrea that she is compassionate about the mission of the foundation and the resulting work that she performs. She guides prospective applicants through the grant application process, collects the background information required to process the application and prepares the information for committee approval. No stone goes unturned.

Andrea has increased the grant activity that the foundation processes from approximately 50 applications to 138 during 2020—all with a smile. It is safe to say that since Andrea took the reins at FCIF, we are a far better organization.

Andrea’s work ethic is second to none. During COVID-19, when many worked from home, it was not uncommon to see Andrea and her team coming in to process grants, as she knew the need was likely to be great and those needing help would be negatively impacted by delays, even if they were justified by a pandemic.

Not only does she care about those she is helping, but she is also mindful of the importance of wisely accounting for every dollar granted. With this in mind, she has utilized internships with local college students to further stretch the donations to FCIF. With Andrea’s help and persistence, the FCIF is well positioned for the future.

Charlie Dilks is chief product officer for CCA Global and chair of the Floor Covering Industry Foundation (FCIF)



Rotem Eylor, CEO of Republic Flooring

When people first meet Rotem Eylor, they can tell early on that he was destined for greatness. From his humble beginnings in a small desert city in Israel, through many years of service in a special tactical unit of the Israeli military, then a top executive in the international diamonds business to CEO/owner of a rapidly growing flooring company in the U.S.—Rotem has achieved success in so many diverse areas. The common denominator, however, is his approach to business and his willingness to go against the grain and be different.

Rotem calls his approach “guerrilla operations.” One of his key management skills is being able to turn the ship quickly—no matter the size of the ship. His take-charge attitude and passion for creating beautiful flooring products has propelled Republic Floor to the top of the industry.

Never losing sight that it takes a team to nurture, build and grow the business, Rotem is readily available to all employees—not just the management team—and constantly encourages everyone to be the best version of themselves.

An entrepreneur, forward thinker and hands-on owner. That’s Rotem Eylor.

Efi Eylor is director of business development for Republic Floor



I have known John for over a decade and one thing is for sure—he is without doubt one of the most loyal and determined people I have ever met. Even the pandemic has not deterred him from delivering on his promises to customers, partners and colleagues, as well as family and friends.

For many, global lockdowns have made contact with others more challenging, but John has dared to defy all obstacles by turning the situation into something positive. He has adapted i4F’s modus operandi in record time and committed extra time for employees to safeguard our feelings of inclusion, safety and happiness—so very important during this long period of physical separation.

Instead of expected freezes in investments, he is investing more toward safety, R&D, marketing and people. He is growing our teams in Europe and Asia by hiring new people via online interviews to ensure the best possible support is provided to the industry.

John’s ability to truly connect with people has further encouraged the flooring market during this period. For example, he has pledged to continue participating in all major exhibitions both digitally—via i4F’s elaborate virtual showcase—and, when possible and safely, in person. As well, he has initiated and hosted intimate sessions with flooring’s most prominent leaders to examine how to make best use of the moment to drive forward innovation and deliver on business plans.

Undeterred, John continues to drive business forward. Several meaningful new innovations have been developed, patent applications continue to be filed around the world and numerous new patent partnerships have been established. Demand creation is being boosted through a significant retailer campaign, now rolling out across North America and Europe.

i4F delivered record results in 2020, and our team has never been more motivated. As a loyal and “undeterred perseverer,” John continues to earn the trust and respect of his team as well as the entire global flooring industry.

Stéphanie Couture is general counsel for i4F



As Wellmade’s director of marketing for the past 10 years, I’m proud to have worked side-by-side with brothers Allen and George Chen in their quest to design, manufacture and market top-line hard surface flooring products for distribution throughout North America.

The story begins in Nanjing, China, where Allen and George opened a small plant to manufacture bamboo flooring. George remained in China to oversee the plant, while Allen established a U.S. sales office in Portland, Ore. As fate would have it, Allen quickly landed a very high-profile, large channel retail account. George worked tirelessly producing basically one product (carbonized bamboo flooring) with one production line, and the customer purchased copious amounts of it.

Step-by-step, Wellmade expanded the operation and established the company as a major player in the solid and engineered bamboo category, supplying significant national OEM accounts, large channel retailers and flooring distributors. Yet, even with the success of bamboo flooring, the brothers realized that diversifying into higher-volume products would be key to reaching long-term success and stability for the company.

With the emergence of a WPC core structure, George and Allen realized the category would continue to evolve. With that, George spearheaded the development of Wellmade’s patented HDPC rigid core family of products. As they say, “The rest is history.”

Today, Wellmade’s HDPC rigid core is available with vinyl wood or vinyl tile looks. And the company’s first-to-market HDPC waterproof hardwood and bamboo is forging a new trend in the industry.

The story does not end there. Allen and George have continued to invest heavily back into the business. As part of Wellmade’s “Made in the USA” initiative, the company is expanding its manufacturing to Cartersville, Ga., with construction of a state-of-the-art, 328,000-square-foot stateside facility. Scheduled to open this summer, the new plant will eventually employ up to 200 individuals from the surrounding Bartow County area.

Growing pains are a natural part of building any business. Allen and George continue to rise to the challenge, exemplifying the American entrepreneurial spirit while promoting the virtues of family, friends and loyalty to customers and employees.

Steve Wagner is director of marketing for Wellmade



What does it take for a company to stay aligned through a sudden shift in operations? Especially one with more than 20,000 unique individuals with diverse perspectives, backgrounds and responsibilities that service an even broader customer base across the globe?

The answer is simple: culture. In times of crisis, the integrity of individuals—and organizations—shines through. Leadership is revealed. And a company’s belief in one another and commitment to the work becomes more important than ever. In the context of COVID-19, it required someone to step forward and provide answers. Or, perhaps more importantly, admit when they didn’t have them.

Mike Fromm, chief human resources officer, was that leader for Shaw—embodying our culture of respect and perseverance. Fromm championed the needs of associates, leaning on the resources of various departments, innovating our platforms of communication, embracing vulnerability and inspiring bold action in the face of uncertainty. We didn’t have all the answers. But what Shaw did have was our core values of honesty, integrity and passion that served as our moral compass through it all.

We put people first—and that carried through to our customers. Through his example, Fromm empowered other leaders to act with honesty, fostering open conversations with customers. His transparency solidified our integrity, enabling us to confidently open our virtual doors to customers, vendor partners and media to ensure all felt informed, respected and engaged. Through it all, Shaw’s passion for our customers—and each other—has echoed through Zoom calls and acts of service across the country.

Mike Fromm showed us what it means to “make a difference.” It means giving your whole self in the service of others. No matter what or where, Shaw is here in service of you.

Tim Baucom is president and CEO of Shaw Industries

Derek Welbourn: A TRUE PARTNER


Derek Welbourn has a unique vision to create a different type of company. His guiding principle continues to be one based on partnership. From day one, Derek saw Inhaus’ distributors and dealers as an extension of Inhaus and, because of this, has built some extremely strong and long-standing relationships that he often refers to as the “Inhaus Family.”

A belief that partnerships would result in a truly unique company was not a business plan or strategy; it was simply derived from Derek’s collaborative approach to business—believing strongly that a company will achieve greater success if it creates a strong network of expert customers that have similar principles.

Inhaus has a “customer-first” culture that stems from Derek’s relentless effort to make sure all customers are looked after and treated equally regardless of size or stature.

After 20 years, Derek continues to have boundless energy to create efficient processes, invent unique and innovative products while leading by example through a set culture of professionalism and hard work while never forgetting to add fun to the mix. Having successfully achieved what he set out to do, he’s far from resting on his laurels. He created a very flat organization by trusting and empowering a team of faithful employees to make decisions, learn from their mistakes and grow with the company. Derek is excited about the future of Inhaus and sharing in its continued success with its strong network of devoted customers. His lab background and strong personal interest in innovation continue to drive Inhaus’ efforts to create new products.

Fred Feuermann is chief operating officer for Inhaus


When scientists began seeking a vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in early 2020, they were careful not to promise quick success. The fastest any vaccine had previously been developed—from viral sampling to approval—was four years, for mumps in the 1960s. To hope for one even by the summer of 2021 seemed highly optimistic.

But by the start of December, the developers of several vaccines had announced excellent results in large trials, with more showing promise. On Dec. 2, a vaccine made by drug giant Pfizer with German biotech firm BioNTech was announced. A week later, the Moderna unveiled its COVID-19 vaccine, and on Feb. 27, the FDA authorized Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine for emergency use. A fourth vaccine, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is being manufactured in 15 countries and is currently under review for emergency use in the U.S.

Here’s a brief description of the scientists behind the vaccines.

Pfizer: Ozlem Tureci, who founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, Ugur Sahin, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumors when they learned of an unknown virus infecting people in China. Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat. The vaccine uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumors.

Moderna: It is the work by Hamilton Bennett’s team at Moderna that enabled the biotech company’s coronavirus vaccine to gain emergency use approval by the FDA in record time. While Pfizer’s was the first, Moderna’s is the second mRNA-based vaccine to have ever received the U.S FDA’s approval for emergency use.

Johnson & Johnson: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine relies on a design Dr. Dan Barouch pioneered nearly 20 years ago for two experimental vaccines that have shown promise against HIV and Zika, and a third that won approval from the European Union in July to prevent Ebola. It uses a harmless and relatively rare cold virus, adenovirus serotype 26 or Ad26, as a Trojan horse to deliver part of the distinctive spike protein on the coronavirus surface into cells to trigger an immune response without making people sick.

AstraZeneca: At the heart of Oxford’s effort to produce a COVID-19 vaccine are half a dozen scientists—led by Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill—who between them brought decades of experience to the challenge of designing, developing, manufacturing and trialing a safe vaccine at breakneck speed. Instead of mRNA, AstraZeneca uses a viral vector (or carrier) to hold extra genetic material that codes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.



When Mohawk first began talks of safely hosting the Mohawk Momentum Roadshow during a global pandemic, Crystal Moore was the first on the case. From scouting hotels that were willing to bring back furloughed employees, to negotiating contracts in uncertain times, Crystal worked tirelessly to make the Roadshow the success that it has been for more than 2,000 attendees across four cities.

But that’s all in a normal day’s work for Crystal. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Crystal has dedicated her career to Mohawk Industries. Her parents both retired from the company after 77 years of service, collectively. Her eyes light up when tenured employees connect her family dots. Since 2003, Crystal has spent her time at Mohawk in shipping, safety, customer service and hospitality. She is now a member of the marketing team, working exclusively on residential events such as Edge Council, roadshows, Surfaces and Edge.

It’s not just her unique ability to multitask, execute and manage million-dollar budgets across the business that sets her apart. Crystal is an unstoppable force with a smile always on her face. She is genuinely honest and wonderfully opinionated. She has friends in every corner of Calhoun-based Mohawk Flooring Center, with many of those relationships dating back to her first day. She is a trusted, hardworking Mohawk employee and a loyal friend.

While Crystal is currently planning and preparing every aspect of Mohawk’s Roadshow presence at Surfaces in June, her stress level is not as high as it may have been in other years. After all, she was a pioneer in hosting successful in-person events in a COVID-19 world—she’s just getting started.

Laura Bartley is senior director, marketing communications and events for Mohawk Flooring N.A.



One of the first people I met when I became CEO of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) was Jeff King. When I met him, he said, “Hi, I am Jeff King, your legal counsel—if you will have me.”

I have made many important personnel appointments since taking this position, but none have proven more critical than the decision to retain Jeff as the legal counsel of the WFCA. I am honored to recognize his contributions to our industry.

His life experiences are vast, his passion is unequaled and his heart for this industry is second to none. By far one of the most intelligent people I have had the privilege to know and learn from, Jeff has the amazing ability to take complex concepts and make them understandable. Having practiced law in Washington, D.C., for many years, his knowledge of the inner workings of our government along with our valued partnership with our lobbying firm—Lobbyit—make meetings in our nation’s capital amazingly productive. The trifold partnership of WFCA, Lobbyit and Jeff became significantly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily changes being considered in legislation that would impact our 10,000-plus members and the industry as a whole. His daily emails and weekly Zoom updates brought comfort to the industry during a time of great uncertainty.

Making himself readily available to individual members, groups and entities throughout the industry, Jeff is often a featured speaker at industry meetings and shows. I often say Jeff is WFCA’s legal counsel but, in reality, he is legal counsel to the entire industry, and we are blessed to have him.

Scott Humphrey is CEO of the World Floor Covering Association



The Dixie Group believes our greatest advantage has been our people. As we step into our next 100 years, we are committed to investing in talent that strengthens our organization. Additionally, we are “obsessed with making our customers more successful.” At the helm of these beliefs is T.M. Nuckols.

When we were looking for someone to lead our residential business, T.M. was a uniquely qualified candidate who mirrored our values, understood our business and had industry relationships to deliver our promise.

T.M. leads TDG’s residential business by being an exceptional communicator, having a strong emphasis on product innovation, empowering others to do the right things and giving our consumers and customers a world-class product offering.

T.M. has been an industry leader for nearly three decades. His leadership spans his 28 years with DuPont, Invista/Stainmaster and the last four with The Dixie Group. As president of our residential business, T.M. is laser focused on our customers’ success by advocating meaningful improvements throughout our organization. T.M. has transitioned The Dixie Group into new segments, brought in the industry’s best talent for future growth and enhanced operational excellence across our residential business.

Congratulations, T.M., on this well-deserved recognition by the industry and your peers. We are honored to work alongside you as we continue to challenge the process and make our customers more successful.

Dan Phelan is vice president of marketing and hard surface, TDG residential


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