Business Matters 2020 - Page 25

Company founder W.G. “Bill” Ihlo is seen in this 1960s era photo with the 1 millionth door produced at the E.L. Bruce plant in Center, where he served as superintendent of the plant’s door division. EDITOR’S NOTE: Center’s Ihlo Sales and Import Co., a global manufacturer and importer of plywood and wood products, could be based anywhere, but with roots running deep in Center and Shelby County, the firm continues operations here 47 years after it’s founding by W.G. Bill Ihlo. Today, Ihlo is operated by the second and third generations of the family with Roy Blackshear and Wil Blackshear. Roy Blackshear shares details of the firm’s history, it’s global reach and business philosophy in this article. . WG. “Bill” Ihlo, my father, started Ihlo Sales and Import Co. on January 1st, 1973. He was 47 years old and he and my mother, Suzanne Ihlo, took a leap of faith to start the new company. Dad proudly served his country in the U.S. Navy during WWII and the Korean War. He was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard. His brother, George Ihlo, was also in the Korean War in the Army. They were able to contact each other from time to time, checking on each other. Uncle George came back to Center and was a mason/bricklayer. He was also the mayor of Center for a number of years. His son, Billy, continues to be a mason. After the war, Dad came back to Center and started working for Maxy Thomas as a carpenter and worked his way up to construction superintendent on the Holly Farms Processing Plant, now Tyson. He was then named supervisor for the building of Atlas Plywood Plant, later bought out by E.L. Bruce in 1958. Dad was named Superintendent for the door division. Managing the door plant, purchasing doorskins domestically and later buying from Hokkaido, Japan and imported to Houston, Texas. Gaining knowledge that would help him to start his own company. In the 1960’s, Dad was importing Black Walnut, Red Oak, and Birch doorskins that E.L. Bruce produced then into architectural doors for high rise buildings. Hyatt Hotel, Old Republic Bank, Texas Commerce Bank, Shell I and II, all in downtown Houston, have E.L. Bruce doors. His last big job as manager of the door division was the manufacture of the doors for the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago. Ihlo Sales started in a 12 x12 storage room behind his garage. He would work all day and when mom got off work from Farmer’s State Bank, she would type his letters at night to be mailed the next day. Thank goodness Gwen Hughes came to work in 1975. This saved mom and dad and allowed mom to get back to her life. Ihlo Sales moved into our current building in 1977, where we continued to grow, selling doorskins to most of the door plants in the U.S. Selling decorative plywood like Red Oak, Pecan, Walnut, and Birch to furniture and kitchen cabinet manufacturers and selling raw plywood to R.V. manufacturers. In 1981, Wylma Beckham came to work as our accountant. Gave Dad two employees. I came to work in 1982, learning the doorskin and plywood business, different customers and suppliers in Asia. In October of ’82, Dad took me on my first trip to Asia. It was for 5 weeks. We went to South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. It was an eye opener for me, visiting mills in all those countries. First day in Taiwan, we were staying at the Sheraton LaLa in Taipei. Back then, I had hair below the ears. He said let’s get haircuts. I fell asleep in the chair. When I woke up, he was smiling at me and I looked in the mirror…not happy! But it’s been above my ears ever since. Gwen had been using a telex machine to send messages overseas. When we would receive messages, it was like an old movie, it was so loud as it typed out the message. In the mid ‘80s, our suppliers were starting to use a machine called a fax machine. Dad bought one in Taiwan and had it air freighted. Back then it cost about $10,000. But it was well worth it. It took about 3 minutes per page to send. Ihlo was one of the first, if not the first, to have one in Shelby County. Holly Farms, Center Plywood (Hallmark), E.L. Bruce, and others would send people over to use our fax machine. It got AT A GLANCE WHAT: Ihlo Sales & Import Co. — Importer. Manufacturer and distributor of wood products on a global scale. WHO: Founded by W.G. “Bill” Ihlo; currently operated by Roy Blackshear and son, Wil Blackshear WHERE: Based in Center, Texas, USA; doing business globally WHEN: Founded Jan. 1, 1973 — 47 years ago; because of operations around the world in a variety of different time zones, it operates 24/7. Business MATTERS | 2020 Fall Edition 25