Nashville, Tenn.—Don Finkell, hardwood flooring advocate and former president of Anderson Hardwood Floors, was honored April 17 with Floor Covering News’ fifth annual Al Wahnon Lifetime Achievement Award. The award was presented to Finkell by publisher and editorial director Steven Feldman and associate publisher Dustin Aaronson at the National Wood Flooring Association’s annual Wood Flooring Expo here.
Floor Covering News established the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize and celebrate those people who have not only made significant contributions to the floor covering industry, but, more important, worked toward its betterment and made a difference over a sustained period of time. Simply stated, the award is intended to recognize service and leadership that is of a scope and duration to be considered a lifetime achievement.
Finkell is a most-deserving recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also more responsible for furthering the hardwood flooring industry than just about any individual.
From the moment he was named president of Anderson Hardwood Floors in 1998 until selling the company to Shaw Industries in 2007, Finkell helped shape the category when it came to style and innovation. He oversaw advances in everything from no-wax maintenance—which included tougher, more durable wear layers—all the way to pioneering the handscraped rustic look. Anderson was also the first to take hickory from a core material to a sought-after specie or visual.
Finkell told FCNews many years ago, “Bob [Anderson, the former president], always wanted to make a pecan floor. There was a lot left in the forests. But it was difficult to cut and difficult to finish. By fluke we discovered pecan could be stained with a water base, and once we had it in color it took off. That’s when we started exploring other species. It became our ‘not the same old oak” philosophy.’”
He was among the first people in this industry who recognized the importance of design and thought about it in terms of “what hasn’t happened yet” as opposed to perfecting trends of the past. The idea for him was to make the floor the focal point of a room’s design as opposed to a backdrop.
Ira Lefkowitz, president and CEO, Ark Floors, U.S. division, distributed Anderson products for many years as the CEO of Hoboken Floors in Wayne, N.J. “Don has had a huge impact on the industry, including style and design to basically everything, highlighted by his work at Anderson with Appalachian, as well as its other brands; they far exceeded what other manufacturers had [to offer].”
Finkell was among the first, if not THE first, to form a strategic partnership with China’s largest flooring mill, Power Dekor, to sell his hardwood flooring to Chinese consumers. The 1,400-square-foot store also targeted designers. “Anderson has always been about style and fashion, and we want to develop stronger relationships with the designer community in China,” Finkell said at the time.
But it has been on the environmental front that Finkell’s legacy may well be remembered as he continues to fight to ensure the world’s forests remain a viable resource for generations. Chairman of the Hardwood Federation, Finkell was also head of the Research Foundation of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), which oversees the organization’s Responsible Procurement Program (RPP)—a third-party verified environmental standard he helped create that gives domestic suppliers a way to certify their products are legally sourced.
Michael Martin, CEO of the NWFA, said Finkell was “instrumental in developing the NWFA’s RPP—a step-wise approach to achieving FSC certification—which speaks to his commitment to legal forestry and preserving the world’s natural resources for future generations. His passion for the environment, and for our industry, is evident in everything he does.” Organizations involved in the development of the NWFA RPP included the Forest Stewardship Council, World Wildlife Fund Global Forests & Trade Network, Rainforest Alliance, the Nature Conservancy, and Scientific Certification Systems, which provides the required third-party audit.
Finkell believes while the forests are meant to be enjoyed, without commercial value owners are tempted to clear cut and use the land for other uses, which has proven to harm both the local land and the planet as a whole.
Therefore, as someone who believes the only protected forest is an economically productive forest, Finkell has promoted responsible harvesting and use of tropical species by not only fighting for the passage of the Lacey Act amendments, but also for taking the common sense adoption of industry standards for exercising “due care” under Lacey.
In fact, he is also a member of a blue ribbon committee for the Unified Hardwood Promotion seeking to promote positive performance and environmental attributes. The committee is comprised of industry leaders; Finkell is only one of two people who represent the flooring industry.
But Finkell’s mission was more than environmental protection; it was about protecting American manufacturing. He realized that American hardwood manufacturers could not compete with China because of the subsidies coming from the Chinese government and illegal logging. Today, other countries are adopting illegal logging regulations modeled after the Lacey Act, and other industries outside of hardwood flooring are now being held to the same standards.
“We are seeing positive change in Brazil and Indonesia,” Finkell said. “We are also seeing laws passed in Australia and the European Union that are similar to the Lacey Act, where the intent is to stop illegal timber from penetrating those markets. If you are a timber-producing country, you should know it’s not just the U.S. with a law like Lacey. As a result, more countries are making serious efforts to improve the oversight of forestry practices on the ground.”
But possibly his greatest contribution to this world is arguably how many of his products at Anderson—and at his recently launched company, American OEM—are manufactured. When sales were climbing for Anderson in 1995, supply became something of a problem. Subsequently, the company began to experience production issues centered on absenteeism, quality and the fact there was no third shift. Anderson proceeded to embark on a pilot program with 14 inmates within the South Carolina prison system. Dramatically improved quality and productivity led Anderson to go into another prison in 2002.
Called Prison Industry Enterprises (PIE), the program was developed to reduce recidivism. Inmates are paid a civilian wage from which they are required to pay 20% to victim restitution, income tax, room and board, and put 10% into savings. The rest is given to the inmate’s family.
The theory behind PIE is that inmates will leave prison with better job skills and real life work experience that has taught them about productivity and the realities of costs and profits. The recidivism rate in the PIE population is 7% vs. more than 50% for the general population; upon release, most fall back into a life of crime, trying to get by with a felony on their records, no skills, no education and no savings. In fact, Finkell has hired people who came out of the prison program as civilians and had good success with them.
Martin said one of the best things about Finkell is that he has no personal agenda, “which is refreshing. Everything he does is truly for the benefit of the industry as a whole. He has built strong relationships in all segments of our industry and continues to make contributions to improve the desire for wood flooring for the end user. Don is one of the smartest, most humble people I have met since joining the NWFA three years ago, and I am grateful for his guidance and his friendship.”
Lefkowitz agreed. “He’s been a good guy for the industry. With Don, what you see is what you get. He’s a straightforward individual, a straight shooter and just a really a good guy to do business with.”
Finkell joins an impressive list of Lifetime Achievement Award winners: Sandy Mishkin, co-founder and president of CCA Global Partners; Ralph Boe, recently retired president of Beaulieu America; Donald Miller, owner of Roppe, and Jeff Lorberbaum, chairman and CEO of Mohawk Industries.