SBC Magazine April 2017 : Page 12

The Family Man Remembering the Life Legacy of Dwight Hikel ON FEBRUARY 7, 2017, the structural building components industry lost one of its leading advocates and innovators, Dwight Hikel. His contributions to the industry can be found today not only in the success of his company, Shelter Systems Limited, but also in the words and actions of many of the industry’s leaders who were his peers and fellow members of the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA). If you read only their sentiments scattered throughout this article, you’ll begin to understand the breadth and depth of the impact Dwight made on the association and the industry as a whole. If you read the rest of the story, you’ll gain an appreciation for the man, and the family to which he was so dedicated. STARTING THE FAMILY BUSINESS Dwight Hikel was born June 17, 1938 in Laconia, New Hampshire. His father, Nolan George Hikel, was a career military officer who served as an officer in the infan-try on Utah Beach during the Allied Force’s invasion of Normandy and was promoted to Lt. Colonel. The many places his father was stationed helped Dwight develop a wide range of inter-ests and passions at an early age. For example, after the war, Nolan Hikel continued on as a Colonel and helped in the Allies’ reconstruction efforts in Austria. While living in an Austrian castle, Dwight 12 sbcmag.info • APRIL 2017 discovered his love for horses, a passion he pursued throughout the rest of his life. Out of school, Dwight pursued an early career as a draftsman. His first job was draft-ing airplane designs for the Glenn L. Martin Company, which eventually became part of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. He eventually found himself in the lumber indus-try, and worked for three separate lumber companies. The last of the three was Fort McHenry Lumber in Baltimore, Maryland, which sold a wide range of building materials including trusses. After leaving Fort McHenry to pursue a brief career as a restaurateur, Dwight returned to Fort McHenry in the sales department. (Incidentally, John Dermer managed Fort McHenry’s truss operations and SBCA’s current president, Jack Dermer, was their truss designer.)

In Memoriam: Dwight Hikel



The Family Man
Remembering the Life & Legacy of Dwight Hikel

ON FEBRUARY 7, 2017, the structural building components industry lost one of its leading advocates and innovators, Dwight Hikel. His contributions to the industry can be found today not only in the success of his company, Shelter Systems Limited, but also in the words and actions of many of the industry’s leaders who were his peers and fellow members of the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA). If you read only their sentiments scattered throughout this article, you’ll begin to understand the breadth and depth of the impact Dwight made on the association and the industry as a whole. If you read the rest of the story, you’ll gain an appreciation for the man, and the family to which he was so dedicated.

STARTING THE FAMILY BUSINESS

Dwight Hikel was born June 17, 1938 in Laconia, New Hampshire. His father, Nolan George Hikel, was a career military officer who served as an officer in the infantry on Utah Beach during the Allied Force’s invasion of Normandy and was promoted to Lt. Colonel. The many places his father was stationed helped Dwight develop a wide range of interests and passions at an early age. For example, after the war, Nolan Hikel continued on as a Colonel and helped in the Allies’ reconstruction efforts in Austria. While living in an Austrian castle, Dwight discovered his love for horses, a passion he pursued throughout the rest of his life.



Out of school, Dwight pursued an early career as a draftsman. His first job was drafting airplane designs for the Glenn L. Martin Company, which eventually became part of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. He eventually found himself in the lumber industry, and worked for three separate lumber companies. The last of the three was Fort McHenry Lumber in Baltimore, Maryland, which sold a wide range of building materials including trusses. After leaving Fort McHenry to pursue a brief career as a restaurateur, Dwight returned to Fort McHenry in the sales department. (Incidentally, John Dermer managed Fort McHenry’s truss operations and SBCA’s current president, Jack Dermer, was their truss designer.)











Dwight met Lenny Sylk in 1974, when the two of them were selling product to the same customer. Dwight had already developed a passion for components because, as his son Joe attests, “he felt trusses added the best value to the house and had the most potential for growth and innovation going forward.” Dwight and Lenny hit it off, and started a collaborative relationship that ultimately got Dwight and one of the company’s managers, Chris Ditzel, fired from Fort McHenry Lumber. In the video created to celebrate Shelter Systems Limited’s 40th anniversary, Dwight recounted how he and Chris, “got caught working on a project by Fort McHenry Lumber. We were instantly fired.” To get their own truss business off the ground, “[Lenny] lent us the money to buy a couple of used cars and he had us mortgage our houses for $50,000 apiece. We each put $40,000 into the business and kept $10,000 in our pockets and that was to be our income for the next six months.”

In 1975, Dwight, his wife Linda, his son Joe, and Chris started Allstate Components and Material Fabrication Corporation. They delivered their first trusses early in 1976, and shortly thereafter shipped their first international job, a housing project in Iran. They eventually joined Lenny’s national network of truss manufacturers under the banner of Shelter Systems Inc., and Dwight even served as COO of the Shelter Systems Group for a time.

GROWING THE FAMILY BUSINESS

The original production facility the company built was 14,000 square feet, and five employees ran one saw and three truss assembly stations. In the early 1980s, they added an additional 18,000 square feet of production space. “We maintained a narrow product offering, namely roof and floor trusses, and differentiated ourselves through focusing on building the best product and going further in our customer service than our competitors,” said Joe.

Chris retired in 1989, and in 1993, the Hikels were contemplating the possibility of buying Lenny out. Joe recalled the defining moment for the company, “Lenny was being a tough negotiator, so there was a point where we were thinking of just walking away from the business.” But then one of the company’s top truss designers passed away and the whole company showed up for his funeral. “Dad and Linda were looking at all the people at the funeral and knew they couldn’t walk away from this family that was their company. They wanted to provide for them.”

So with the help of local financial institutions and the Maryland Small Business Administration, the Hikels became the sole owners of Shelter Systems Limited on May 3, 1993. In a Baltimore Sun article published later that month, Dwight said his motivation was, “I wanted this to be a family business.”

The focus on the family was twofold. First, Dwight was committed to working very closely with his wife, who was in charge of finance and took over purchasing in 1993, and his son Joe, who helped run the operations. “It had its challenges. The father-son relationship was always caught up in the boss-employee relationship,” said Joe. Linda agreed that it was the same for her and Dwight, “we lived, breathed and ate the business. But over time we figured out how to separate it to the extent we could.” Second, Dwight looked at the rest of the company’s employees as his extended family. “He was always focused on giving that family a place to prosper,” said Joe. “It gave us all an edge in the market because everyone was more invested in outcomes and the company’s success.” It also created an environment that many chose to be a part of their entire careers. “We have a number of employees who have been with us almost since the beginning. We’re even starting to see the next generation of those employees come to work for us."





One such employee is Lenny Mills, who has been with the company for 35 years and is now the general manager, “Dwight was well respected by everyone here, and it was clear he loved his team. He could be tough and had a way of pushing you to be better. He also had a huge heart and was always willing to help you improve. He will be greatly missed as a teammate and as a friend.”

For a glimpse into Shelter Systems Limited’s operations shortly after they opened, visit the archives at sbcmag.info. “Building a Bigger Shelter,” published in the August 2005 issue, covers the company’s original expansion and its goals for future growth.





By 2003, Shelter Systems Limited had outgrown the capacity of its original location and built a larger, state-of-the-art facility nearby in Westminster, Maryland. In preparing for this expansion, Dwight and Joe spent two years visiting 25 other component manufacturers across the country in an effort to gather innovative industry practices. In the end, they decided to start from scratch and called upon their employees’ know-how to design the most efficient production facility they could.

As eager as Dwight was to learn from others, we was just as eager to share what he had learned from his experiences. “Dad discovered the more transparent you are, the more helpful everyone else is,” said Joe. As a result, a core team of Shelter Systems Limited employees regularly found themselves hosting plant tours for everyone from fire officials, builders and framers to politicians, students and fellow component manufacturers. Anyone was welcome to come and see how they did things. Sharing knowledge went far beyond the plant, however. Dwight was always giving back to the industry through his participation in SBCA.

Dwight joined the SBCA Board of Directors in 1990, and spent many years serving as an At-Large member of the Executive Committee. His contributions to SBCA, and his commitment to mentoring other leaders on the Board earned him the SBC Industry Leadership Award in 2010, He was then honored for his lifelong commitment to the industry and organization in 2011 when he was inducted into the SBCA Hall of Fame.

His commitment and participation in the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) was also noteworthy. While technically he was considered a supplier, it didn’t stop him from serving as president of the NAHB’s Building Systems Council, and as a member of the advisory board for the NAHB’s research center, now called the Home Innovation Research Labs. He was also recognized for his years of service with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Maryland Homebuilders Association in 2008.

He constantly sought ways to bring component manufacturers and homebuilders closer together. “In order to be the best component manufacturer we could be, we wanted to learn the best practices of others, and being involved in SBCA was the best way to do that,” said Joe. “The same was true for NAHB. We wanted to provide the best value-added products to our customers, and NAHB was the best place to find out what our customer wanted, now and in the future.”

LEAVING A LEGACY

After a more than 40-year career in the truss industry, Dwight leaves behind a significant legacy. The Hikel name is synonymous with excellence in component manufacturing, not only on the east coast, but throughout the country. Dwight’s commitment to sharing, encouraging and coaching others is the attribute his peers most commonly admired in him. It’s a commitment that he passed down to his son Joe, who has been a speaker at numerous education sessions at BCMC, served as president of SBCA in 2011 and continues to serve on the SBCA Board of Directors and Executive Committee. Dwight also passed on a passion for the components industry to his two grandsons, Jason and Ryan, who joined the family business over ten years ago.

Those who had the privilege of working with him gravitated to his larger-than-life personality. They learned from his wisdom, laughed at his many stories and followed his lead many times. For several years, SBCA has partnered with Operation Finally Home, a charitable organization that seeks to build homes for wounded veterans. This partnership was initiated and lobbied for fiercely by Dwight. Thanks to his leadership, there are many families who have benefited from this relationship, and many more will benefit in the future.

His family will remember Dwight as being tough but fair. It’s a trait he likely learned early on from his father. It allowed him to successfully navigate the challenges of being a husband and father while also being a boss. It’s also an approach to life that enabled him to nurture a very large extended family at Shelter Systems Limited and within SBCA. It’s a family that will miss him very much.



Dwight was a fierce supporter of SBCA’s relationship with Operation FINALLY HOME. He participated in several BCMC Build projects to provide homes for wounded veterans like Cory Nusbaum







Dwight joined the SBCA Board of Directors in 1990 and spent more than two decades traveling to Open Quarterly Meetings around the country. He received the SBC Industry Leadership Award at BCMC 2010 for his commitment to mentoring other leaders on the SBCA Board of Directors. He was honored for his lifelong commitment to the industry and organization in 2011 when he was inducted into the SBCA Hall of Fame.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sean Shields has been managing editor of SBC Magazine since 2010 and is also director of communications for SBCA. He has focused on helping CMs grow their market share since joining SBCA in 2004.


“We are fortunate if we leave our fingerprint on some small part of this industry during our careers. It’s my belief that Dwight has left his handprints all over this industry and a lot of people in it. Dwight had a hell of an effect on a lot of things we’ve done and currently do in our association and industry.”


Mike Ruede & John Herring, A-1 Roof Truss


“Dwight was a man who encouraged others and helped many throughout the years. He did so without fanfare, but was always there when needed. He was a driving force in the industry and a staunch supporter of SBCA. I’m sure he was most proud of the family and team at Shelter Systems. The team he and his family built is second to none. That is his legacy.”


Jack Dermer, American Truss Systems


“Dwight was a great leader for SBCA and our industry throughout his career. When he spoke during meetings, everyone listened intently. Dwight’s commitment and engagement was steadfast, and I will always admire him for that.”


Jess Lohse, Rocky Mountain Truss


“Dwight never held anything back when it came to furthering the professionalism of our industry. He shared his new plant and operational beliefs on many occasions. When Shelter Systems had a learning experience, Dwight made sure he shared it so others would learn from it.”


Rick Parrino, Plum Building Systems


“When I first got involved with SBCA in the mid-‘90s, he took a shine to me and always expressed an interest in my ideas. I later realized that he was very much like my own father, a nurturer of continuous improvement through innovation. His business leadership skills helped shape me, not only as a businessman but as a person, and his passion and our shared love for this industry still inspires and fuels me today.”


Barry Dixon True House


“Dwight was passionate and always acted with dignity and class, traits I have tried to follow. Dwight was always someone to admire.”


Jim Finkenhoefer, True House


“I was fortunate to know Dwight for the last 30 years. Every time I saw him he had a smile on his face. He was always eager to engage in a discussion. He was curious about what I was doing. He was a genuinely nice person who clearly loved people and people loved him right back. He will be missed.”


Scott Stevens, Modu Tech


“Dwight was a hard-charging, out-of-the-box thinker who always took the time to help, advise and support the people around him. He was a generous human being whose heart was in his giving as he supported various causes throughout his life.”


Steve Stroder, California TrusFrame


“Dwight had more passion about the truss business than anyone I've ever met. He made you want to love this industry. I will never forget his story on how he came to own his business and all the struggles that he endured. He looked me in the eye and grabbed my arm and said, ‘Never give up buddy boy! No matter what comes your way, all of your people are counting on you to be strong when the going gets tough!"


Scott Ward, Southern Components

Read the full article at http://digital.sbcmag.info/article/In+Memoriam%3A+Dwight+Hikel/2746222/395227/article.html.

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