Over the last decade I have lost count of the amount of guest speakers I have listened to at the many meetings and conventions I have attended.
But I sure know which one remains my favorite.
It’s none other than Columbia, South Carolina-based Gateway Supply President Chris Williams’ emotional speech during the 2017 Embassy buying group’s shareholders meeting in Chicago.
Before I get back to that speech, I just realized Embassy and Gateway have made headlines of late. Embassy, of course, has officially merged with the WIT buying group to form the new Commonwealth Group that debuts Jan. 1. Check out our news section on Page 10 for full details on the merger.
And, of course, Gateway, a founding Embassy and soon-to-be Commonwealth member, is the well-deserving winner of the 2019 Supply House Times Supply House of the Year award.
I spent some time in Columbia recently with Williams and his two brothers, Chairman Sam Williams Jr., and Vice President-HVAC Division David Williams, and upon seeing Chris Williams, his 2017 speech immediately popped back into my head.
It remains the most heartfelt talk I’ve heard in this industry and I’m not sure there is a close No. 2. To set the stage, the Embassy summer shareholders meeting has featured member and vendor profiles where executives (either an Embassy shareholder or an Embassy vendor) get up on stage and give a rundown/history of their company.
In 2017 it was Gateway and Peterson Plumbing Supply out of Richfield, Utah in the profile spotlight.
As I wrote back in 2017, “Near the end of their speeches, both men (Williams and Peterson’s Don Peterson) became emotional when talking about their journey as small-business owners.”
Here is Williams’ portion of my column, first referencing why he became emotional on the podium.
“Williams’ trigger point: the company’s newly purchased tractor-trailer that will deliver products from Gateway’s newly opened distribution center to its 14 South Carolina branches.
“I must have paused a little too long,” Williams said, trying unsuccessfully to downplay the moment. “I guess it was an appreciation of what life has given you. You start out and you don’t have too much and after a great while you can’t figure out how you became so fortunate. I buried my emotion in a truck. I got upset about a truck. At least Don talked about his family.”
I went on to write that the Peterson story mirrors that of Gateway where Williams and his brothers have weathered the ups and downs of small-business ownership and have come out on top.
“I suppose we never really grew up,” he said during the Embassy meeting. “We showed up here at 21 years old and didn’t know (anything) and we still don’t. I’m still trying to get to the top of the mountain, but we keep getting a taller mountain. We never get tired of this. We have never felt like we’ve achieved everything. We keep going because it’s fun and there are plenty of opportunities.”
Williams went on to add during his speech that there was going to be a slight delay in putting that initial tractor-trailer into service. “I’m going to park it outside my window for at least a day and then come to my senses and realize I have to pay for it,” he said.
Since my writings back in 2017, Williams has given that tractor-trailer a companion, which helps Gateway keep humming along as a PHCP-PVF fixture in the South Carolina market.
During my September visit to Gateway, I enjoyed watching the brothers interact, and instantly saw why they list the simple trait of consistency as the reason why the company their father helped start continues to kick you know what.
I encourage you to head over to Page 22 and check out my story on Gateway and the Williamses — prime examples of why our industry remains the great one it is today.