It’s been posited that great leaders hold a number of traits, whether it’s being goal and accomplishment-driven, being good communicators, or earning the respect of those around them. It’s being there for your team, some say, and having a vision. 

Traits like these are what earned James “Jamie” Crawford the highest recognition ABC Supply Co. Inc. can bestow on an employee.

Crawford, a managing partner and manager of ABC Supply’s Salisbury, Md. branch, was one of two ABC Supply employees to receive the Ken Hendricks Award this year. The award, named after ABC Supply’s late co-founder, recognizes an employee’s commitment to the company’s character and core values.

In a news release, ABC Supply said Crawford’s leadership is evident through the “consistent mentorship he offers his associates and peers, as well as his many contributions to causes and charities in his community.”

Crawford, 67, said he was humbled to receive the award, saying it holds special significance for him because he knew who Hendricks was and what values he held.

“To be thought of in the same breath as [Ken Hendricks] is quite an honor,” he said.

The Path to Success

The New Jersey native’s career in the construction industry began as early as age 9, saying he helped his grandfather with his home-building business. At age 16, he received his “first paying job” hanging gutters and remained in the industry ever since.

“It’s a privilege to help people improve their homes and improve their quality of life,” he said of the construction industry.

Crawford continued working as a contractor until speaking with a friend who worked in the distribution industry. When his friend explained how much he was enjoying the work, Crawford decided a change was in order and switched to distribution.

After moving from New Jersey to Delaware in the late ‘90s, Crawford relocated to Maryland in 2002. That same year, he opened a Salisbury branch for Bradco Supply, a New Jersey-based building materials distributor founded in 1966.

In 2010, while serving as branch manager, ABC Supply acquired Bradco Supply, and Crawford officially joined the nationwide distributor. ABC Supply managers were impressed with Crawford’s leadership qualities and, just year after the acquisition, named Crawford one of its managing partners. Following that, he was inducted into the President’s Club in 2014.

“In order to be successful in any job or in any industry, you have to go above and beyond status quo,” Crawford said. “Our team is always looking for ways to meet our customers’ needs and be of added value or service to them. It might be product knowledge, it might be training.”

In that respect, Crawford said his branch excels in product knowledge and on-time deliveries. Regarding deliveries, he said it’s all about promising the customer a time and delivering it at that time.

“We do what we say, and say what we do. If we tell a customer we’ll be there at 9 and we’re there at 9, there’s value to that. Customers need reliable partners,” he said.

Under Crawford’s management, the Salisbury location has been named “Center of the Year” for 11 straight years, eight of those at the “Diamond level.”

Maintaining the Course

What makes someone an exemplary leader is not only improving the business, but keeping it on track during rough times, and the Salisbury branch isn’t without its challenges.

Like other suppliers, it’s facing a tough economic climate hindered by price hikes and inflation. Crawford said his branch sees a lot of new construction business, but that sector of the industry has slowed down this past year.

“It's always a challenge in down markets to meet the monthly sales goals. So you might have to change your product or your approach,” he said. “We've ventured out into commercial a little bit more this year, which has helped us fill in any gaps we were seeing from our traditional channels.”

He said a salesperson they hired helped fill that gap, which Crawford notes was a stroke of good fortune. Salisbury isn’t a large metropolis, meaning its pool of qualified candidates isn’t as deep as other areas, making it difficult at times to find manpower that supports the branch’s growth.

Despite these difficulties, Crawford said his branch experienced one of its “most successful years ever” in 2023 and is already planning for growth in the coming year.

“We always want to project growth for next year, even in the face of who-knows-what in an election year,” he said. “But without set goals, you can’t really reach the levels that you are not even aware that you can accomplish.”

His optimism is bolstered by one of his favorite bits of advice he received from a mentor, who, when he was told the market was projected to be down, would say that he will “choose to not participate in that.”

“There’s a lot in that statement,” Crawford said. “If you're constantly told that you can't do something then you will be convinced that you can't do it. But if you're constantly told that you can accomplish something then you'll have the right frame of mind to take anything on.”

When asked what he does to keep morale up, Crawford said it comes down to consistently meeting with staff to discuss goals and stressing the importance of living up to the promises made to customers. He likens it to the saying “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” so he knows it’s imperative that everyone in his branch is clear on their responsibilities.

“It's a team thing of why this branch is successful, it's not just me,” he said.

Thoughts on Leadership

Crawford said multiple mentors throughout his career have guided him, some of whom are still involved in his career today, that have convinced him to always strive for betterment. It’s something he said that Hendricks instilled in all of ABC Supply’s leadership.

“They sent me down that path of positive thinking and understanding that every person has the ability to achieve more than what they believe that they can,” he said. “That was one of Ken's favorite mantras.”

Among the advice he has received, one piece that stands out came from Tom Kuchan, Northeast Region vice president for ABC Supply. His observation was a different take on “leading by example,” which was that a branch will emulate who you are.

This can take the form of employees believing it’s okay to come in late if you as a leader frequently arrive late, or conversely, employees will work harder when they see their leader doing the same. In one interesting observation, Crawford noticed the branch itself changing with his own habits.

“I always had a fairly untidy office and, you know … the rest of the location maybe was a little untidy at the same time,” he said with a chuckle. “It was amazing, I cleaned my office up and all of a sudden the rest of the place started to look better.”

Crawford also has aspirations outside of his career — inspiring his employees to do the same — from wanting to play more golf to traveling more (he hopes to go to Europe for the first time). He also inspires his employees to give back to the communities they serve.

Once a month, the Salisbury crew helps out at the cafe of a local charity called Hope and Life Outreach, or HALO, which provides services like meals, shelter, and case management to the homeless.

“There’s thousands of people that don’t have what you have – you gotta be thankful for what you have and you need to give back. That’s something that I was taught by my grandfather years ago, and thank goodness for him,” he said.