Industry leaders pay homage to Broyhill’s many talents and gifts, including his willingness to mentor and help others
LENOIR, N.C. – Paul Hunt Broyhill, who died this week at age 97, is being remembered by industry leaders for his vision, philanthropy and success in creating a brand that not only grew the Broyhill business, but that also benefited the entire industry by creating an awareness among consumers of furniture as something that could add beauty and value to one’s home.
Broyhill, a second-generation leader in the family-owned business got his start with the company after he returned from his service in World War II and then finished college. Over the years, he took on various executive roles, ranging from product development and design to marketing, sales and manufacturing. He became president in 1959.
This helped build Broyhill into one of the largest furniture manufacturers in the world with plants in North Carolina and Mississippi. Broyhill also built a sales force that expanded distribution of the line throughout the U.S., and under his leadership the company also opened Broyhill stores and galleries that helped established it as one of the most well-recognized furniture brands of its time – or any time.
The name recognition among consumers was only enhanced when the Broyhill brand and product line was promoted on game shows including “The Price is Right.”
“He was such an icon,” said Steve Rotman, who remembers traveling with his father in the 1950s to furniture market to see the company and others in Lenoir and Hickory. “The Broyhill brand, of all the brands we carried, the consumers understood it. And they continued to improve it even when they moved it overseas.”
“We carried it, and for more than 50 years we were involved with the Broyhill brand,” Rotman added of the line, noting that the game shows in particular helped create national name recognition. “People would think of Broyhill as a product for the home. Instead of asking for just furniture, they would ask for Broyhill. It was one of the first major brands on the furniture side that I can remember.”
Rotman also admires Broyhill for creating a standard in the industry that ranged from its product development to the training of its employees. Broyhill University, the internal leadership program he created alongside his brother-in-law Bill Stevens, helped train many industry leaders over the years.
“The training with his employees and his people, it was a standard that he created with the business,” Rotman said.
Irv Blumkin, chairman of Omaha, Neb.-based retailer Nebraska Furniture Mart, said Thursday he was saddened to hear of Broyhill’s passing.
“He was for sure a hero and a mentor to me and a legend in the furniture industry,” Blumkin told Home News Now. “He really made a great impact not only in our industry, but in our business. I will miss him and have great memories and learned so much from him. He was an icon.”
Among those Broyhill was a mentor to was Jeff Holmes, who started his career in the industry as a sales rep at Broyhill in 1972. After participating in the company’s leadership training program about two years later, he came to manage the company’s advertising department and then became manager of the Broyhill retail gallery program.
After leaving Broyhill, Holmes later held president and CEO positions at several major companies in the industry including Singer Furniture, American Drew and Spring Air to name a few.
“Paul hired me in 1972 and I spent 12 wonderful years with the company,” Holmes said. “Paul was my mentor…He was the best person I ever worked for and ever will.”
He added that Broyhill was an important role model for the company and the “epitome of leadership. He knew how to get the right people, in the right place at the right time.”
Industry analyst Jerry Epperson, a managing director of Richmond, Va.-based Mann, Armistead & Epperson also applauded Broyhill for his role as a mentor.
“I met him in the early 70s and I knew his father as well,” Epperson said in reference to J. Edgar Broyhill. “Paul was very quiet, but he was very insightful. The thing I remember the most was his willingness to take time to help others. He has mentored more people in our industry than anyone realizes. He helped them get businesses started and also helped people looking for jobs.”
He added that these traits also materialized in other areas of his life, from his service on various boards to his work in the community of Lenoir that he called home.
“When I was on the board of the American Furniture Hall of Fame, he helped out at every step of the way,” Epperson said, adding that over the years and into his retirement from Broyhill in late 1985, “he continued to play a role and has been accessible.”
Alex Bernhardt Sr., chairman of Bernhardt Furniture Co., said he had known Paul Broyhill all of his life, starting at a young age, as both his and Broyhill’s parents were close friends.
Bernhardt also remembers Broyhill for his devotion to many causes.
“I am sure others will comment on his outstanding leadership in the furniture industry, but I will always remember him as a philanthropic citizen, particularly in Caldwell County, but obviously also through a broader footprint. “He has done as his family before him, and now those following in his footsteps have made immeasurable contributions to an unlimited number of deserving institutions.”
Others noted that while he was a devout Christian in the Southern Baptist tradition, he respected everyone’s religious beliefs.
Ron Wanek, chairman of Ashley Furniture Inds., was a long-time friend of Broyhill, having first met him around 1981, around the time the company was purchased by Interco.
“At the time, Broyhill was probably the best positioned company in the industry, and I always admired them,” Wanek said of the company’s estimated $300-plus million in volume. “Our company at that time was doing around $12 million, so when I looked at $300 million, I was awestruck. That was pretty fantastic.”
At the time, he said, Broyhill was noted for its advanced manufacturing, a position that Broyhill helped create through the development of some six million square feet of manufacturing plants. That includes one of its upholstery plants in Ecru, Miss. that Ashley later purchased.
“Broyhill was what you would call for their time, advance manufacturing,” Wanek told Home News Now, noting that while no company is a “one-man-band,” it was Broyhill’s leadership that helped the company achieve this level of manufacturing innovation.
Added, Holmes, the former president CEO of Singer Furniture and American Drew, “Paul had an uncanny knack of seeing the future, and in some cases creating it. He was more than a builder; he was a creator.”
But he and others agree that as a man of many talents, Broyhill also was responsible for much more when it came to the company’s success.
“They had what I would consider the best factories, and great designs,” Wanek said. “But even more than that, they had the best sales force…Everything they did was excellent. They really were a company to look up to and I always looked up to them.”
“I talked to Paul about 1981 right after they sold and developed a friendship with him and talked to and spent time with him through the years,” Wanek recalled. “I always admired him and always admired Broyhill in its day. It was a fantastic company and Paul’s leadership and style and generosity always impressed me too.”