I know this sounds like a broken record, but our industry is filled with great people. That certainly has been on display during the COVID-19 pandemic. During my series of ASA COVID-19 Town Hall video interviews (all available on ASA’s YouTube channel), the best-of-the-best in our industry have shared real-time insight into how they are best-operating their businesses in these
unprecedented times.

One of my early panelists was John Howe, CEO of Birmingham, Alabama-based American Pipe & Supply. But Howe’s excellence goes beyond his day-to-day steering of the American Pipe ship during the pandemic. When Howe still worked at office supplies giant Staples a little more than a decade ago, his sister-in-law was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which propelled him into immediate action.

“When I was in Atlanta, I put together some MS walking teams and I have continued that here in Birmingham,” he says. Howe was then approached by the president of the Alabama-Mississippi MS Society about American Pipe becoming a corporate sponsor. That was followed by an invitation for Howe to become the walk coordinator charged with generating other corporate involvement. Howe said yes on both accords.

In addition to being a local MS Society sponsor for eight years running, Howe also spearheads other MS awareness events, such as the highly popular bourbon-ham gatherings where some 200 brands of bourbon are on display for tasting.

“That’s a huge success. It sells out every year,” he says. “Our American Pipe vendors have been really big. This year with everything that is going on, we did a virtual walk. We ended up being the second-highest fundraising team and were fourth last year, but we couldn’t do that without the support of our vendors and vendor reps.”

Howe’s giving back is far from limited to his heavy MS awareness involvement. At the AD buying and marketing group’s North American meeting last fall in suburban Dallas, Howe revealed American Pipe’s mentoring efforts at an elementary school around the bend from company headquarters in Birmingham.

“It started out as reading to a class there every week and now it’s evolved into becoming a reading mentor, and I have asked our employees to be reading mentors as well,” Howe says. What started out as six reading mentors now has turned into 13 from American Pipe. “This is a school in a rough area that was on the failing school list,” Howe explains. “We go there every week now and the second graders read to us. It’s a whole program with the alphabet, sight words and then we go into reading.”

Howe says the mentoring program makes a difference. “The young man I had this year, we ended up reading five books a session by the time it ended — blowing through them,” he says. “Every kid I have mentored there had a tough story. Our employees love going there. They are really into it. It’s addicting. You can’t help but not feel good when you leave there.”

Other initiatives Howe has introduced or helped introduce at the school include a canned food drive (1,400 cans donated by 10 American Pipe
families); an appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters at school; a sponsored trip to the Chattanooga Aquarium for all students who raised their standardized test scores; plus funding of a trip for the school’s art class to the High Museum in Atlanta, which brought the art teacher to tears when notified the trip would happen through Howe and American Pipe’s efforts.

“All of this is making a big difference,” Howe says. “You see the confidence level in the child go up. Someone is paying attention to them outside the home. We want to help as many people as possible make a better life for themselves.”