Ron Braam, who retired from Manufacturer Chemicals, presented the award to Robinson Tuesday evening during the 87th Annual Meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce in the Professional Development Center of Life Care Centers of America.
Robinson said he expected to speak as the 2013 chairman of the Chamber of Commerce.
“Instead I find myself up here with a very high award,” he said. “As I look back over my career, it’s such a blessing to serve the community and it is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
The award was extra special for Robinson, who is a nephew to the award’s namesake.
“My mother-in-law was M.C. Headrick’s sister and my mother-in-law wanted me to win this award so bad, that I would say she’s probably doing some flips in heaven,” Robinson said. “Uncle M.C. was a big part of our family. We know how much he gave to his family and to his success. He had success on many fronts.”
The Headrick Award, the highest and most prestigious award presented by the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, honors the memory of one of the most outstanding businessmen Cleveland and Bradley County have ever produced and one who believed wholeheartedly in the fundamental concepts of the free enterprise system.
Robinson, president of Cleveland Plywood Co., is another Cleveland/Bradley County businessman who exhibits the potential of the American free enterprise system, Braam pointed out.
Criteria for the award include staying power, economic success, high moral/ethical standards, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and/or unit volume, and evidence of contributions to aid community-oriented projects.
Cleveland Plywood opened its doors in 1968 under the ownership of Eddy Robinson with basic plywood and traditional lumberyard items. Soon the product line expanded to include not just a broader range of fine woods and veneers but nationally known quality and specialty products such as Anderson windows, Stanley doors and tools, Yale and Weiser Lock locks and hardware, and Skil power tools.
This expansion led to the leasing of four additional yard and warehouse spaces around the depot locations. In early 1975 Robinson leased an additional building to start the fabrication of pre-hung and fitted doors. It soon became apparent the company needed its own, specially designed facility to efficiently maintain the high-quality level of products, service and delivery that management had always required for its customers.
“When someone walks through my door and whether they spend 50 cents or $1,000, both people matter and I can’t tell you how it makes you feel at the end of the day,” he said. “It makes your step light when you go home, it makes you want to hug your family, it’s just the greatest feeling in the world.”
In 1976 the company acquired a 15-acre site with a railroad spur capacity for six cars. The management team designed a new facility, which is now the company headquarters and main base of the operation. In February 1978 Cleveland Plywood officially opened at its new location.
Throughout those early years, Eddy Robinson’s son, Steve, worked in all areas of the company during school vacations and full time in sales following his graduation from the University of Tennessee in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Following his father’s death in August 1978, his broad experience in the business made him the logical candidate to assume the reins of director and subsequently resulted in his election as president of the company.
Steve’s steady guidance of the company since that time, following the sound business principles laid down by his father and aided by the key management group, has led to continued growth and financial strength.
“Steve Robinson has grown Cleveland Plywood into the largest locally owned building material company in Cleveland,” said nominator Christy Griffith, senior vice president of Bank of Cleveland. “Since he assumed the role of president in 1978, the company has experienced several expansion phases and continually expanded its product line.”
In 1988 door styles and lighting options significantly improved with a 40-percent expansion of the manufacturing building and the incorporation of new equipment. Material handling techniques, including new forklift industrial trucks for more rapid unloading of boxcars, and transportation and delivery equipment, are continuously improved. Two-way radio units used by drivers improved delivery service.
To streamline the operation, Cleveland Plywood installed its first computer system in 1990 and has continued to keep step with changing technology.
The company’s human resources department has also continued to grow in experience and depth, with care taken to ensure Cleveland Plywood is a good place to work. In addition to benefit programs, employees, which currently number 53, have a vital interest in the company’s performance and growth as they benefit from a Profit Sharing Program initiated in November 1983.
“I feel fortunate to work here,” said Judy Wilson, Robinson’s secretary. “Steve’s door is always open, whether it’s a customer or an employee. His caring and patient attitude is infectious to those around him.”
Wilson added that her boss empowers his employees to do their best and to take the initiative. “He believes in doing what is best for the customer.”
Charlotte Peak-Jones, owner of KACE Construction & Developments, is one of those customers.
“I patronize Cleveland Plywood and have for many years because of Steve’s reputation and his impeccable customer service and the quality of materials,” Peak-Jones said.
In addition to making Cleveland Plywood a great place to work and to do business, “Steve has consistently given back to our community, not just financially, but through the investment of his time, serving on the boards of many local nonprofit organizations to lend his expertise, support and guidance,” Griffith pointed out.
This year’s Headrick Award winner currently serves on the Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation Executive Committee and on the board of directors for Bank of Cleveland, Cleveland Bradley County Public Library Foundation and Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. He served on the Chamber’s building committee for the current facility and will assume the role as the Chamber’s chairman of the board in February. His business acumen earned him recognition as the Mel Bedwell Small Business Person of the Year in 2007.
Steve has served as vice president of the Cleveland State Community College Foundation’s executive committee since 2009 and chair of the investment committee since 2005.
“It has been my pleasure to know Steve Robinson both as a friend and as a very involved member of our college foundation and a very strong supporter of the college,” Cleveland State President Dr. Carl Hite said.
Hite noted that when the college was looking for volunteers for the Bradley Achieves Mentoring Program, Steve volunteered and became an active mentor for the first and second group of students who came and/or will be coming to Cleveland State.
Hite explained he excels as a mentor and in matters of finance because “he is thorough in his work. He listens to others and takes into account what they have to say.”
The college president continued, “Our foundation has been very successful, and I attribute that in part to the support Steve gives the foundation. He understands finance, and he is always so willing to help. He is one of a kind, and we are so glad he is a member of the Cleveland State family.”
Steve also contributed to another community-oriented project with service on the board of directors of Christmas in April.
“I have known Steve for many years, beginning with his involvement with Christmas in April of Bradley County,” Griffith said in nomination materials. “His generosity to others is unmatched.”
She continued, “His is always willing to help those in need and others around him, yet he will never take any of the credit. That’s just the type of person he is.”
Griffith explained that many times the Christmas in April contacts would find a family in need and Steve would respond, “I’ll take care of that.”
“And using his own time, money and skill, he did just that,” she noted.
Peak-Jones described him as a “true community hero and leader.”
“Steve gives back to our community in many ways,” she said, also noting that he is generous but prefers not to receive recognition. “He is truly one of Cleveland’s unsung heroes.”
“Every community needs a Steve Robinson,” Hite concluded.
Robinson said he is a lifelong resident of Bradley County.
“I plan to work for a long time and I plan to serve you all for a long time. I have a servant’s heart and I hope that shows most. I hope I have a little success along the way, but I hope mostly you see me as a servant.”