Pallet Maker Cultivated ‘People Person Mentality’
Tommy Orr helped build WNC Pallet & Forest Products
By Donna Monnin
Date Posted: 12/2/2002
Tommy Orr helped build WNC Pallet & Forest Products from a single company to an integrated business that has partnered with four other pallet suppliers: Alabama Pallet Co., Pasadena Skid & Pallet, Pensacola Skid & Pallet, and Bay Wood Products. He also is a partner in a new company -- make that No. 5 -- called Corr Pallet Inc. that will manufacture corrugated pallets.
"We do a lot more than just pallets." said Tommy. "We also have a timberland business, sawmill, dry kiln and a chip mill." His son, Brent, manages the pallet portion of the business in Candler, N.C., and will soon start buying into the business and become a partner in the other operations.
WNC is based in Candler, N.C., which is located in the mountains near Asheville. Tommy’s father, Ray, settled his family in Candler in 1950, and Tommy virtually has been there ever since.
WNC has been a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) since 1959, and Tommy served as president in 1993 and on the board of directors several times. "The work I’ve done with the association and various committees has been a great way to contribute back to the industry that has contributed so much to me and my family for many years," he said.
Tommy was educated at North Carolina State University, where he majored in poultry science. In 1965 he went to work for A.W. Perdue & Sons on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Chickens were not in Tommy’s future, though. After about a year he went to work for his father in the family business.
Tommy said that he has been fortunate to have outstanding partners, including Tommy Thrash, who recently retired. "Tommy is a wiz with cost numbers," he said, "and he has definitely passed that down to his son, Dale, who has now succeeded his father in the business."
Tommy and his wife, Donna, have been married 38 years. They were high school sweethearts. "She has been my rock and has always provided me a safe place at home where I can unwind or relax -- when things are going well or when the wheels seem to be coming off," he said. They have three sons and four grandchildren with another grandchild on the way.
"I once considered myself a perfectionist," Tommy added, "but Donna helped me get over it."
They recently attended their 40th high school reunion where it was noted that Tommy and Donna were one of eight couples in their class who married and remained together.
Tommy enjoys woodcarving for a hobby. He and Donna once attended a Western Pallet Association meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they bought a large Indian headdress. After getting it home, he decided it needed something special to display it, so Tommy carved a life-size Indian and put the headdress on it.
His other passion is riding motorcycles; Tommy has two Harley-Davidsons. "We live in some of the best country to ride them," he noted. "These mountains provide a magnificent backdrop."
Tommy is active in his church and makes a point of greeting visitors and making them feel welcome and at home. He and Donna participated in two mission trips in the 1990s to Equador and El Salvador to help construct churches and engage in other ministry. "It gives you a great feeling of accomplishment, helping others in that way."
Tommy considers himself a "people person," and it has contributed to his success. It did not come entirely naturally, though; he has worked at it. Two people in particular influenced him in this area.
In 1967 Tommy met Bill Sardo, the first director of the NWPCA. Bill began the meeting by calling the name of every member in the room, their spouse’s name, the company represented, and the town where the business was located, Tommy recalled. Bill did it without any prompting; he simply had an incredible memory. "That really inspired me to nurture my ‘people personality’ mind set," said Tommy.
The other person was Tommy’s father, Ray. "My father also nurtured me in that important area," he recalled. "Even though he may not have been outstanding in mechanical sense or cost records, he met people extremely well and could win their confidence quickly."
Ray’s life ended tragically. The NWPCA gathered for its 1974 annual conference in Asheville. During the course of the conference, Ray was shot and killed during an attempted robbery as he walked to his car. The killer was apprehended and brought to justice.
Ray was well known within the industry, and the NWPCA members responded. "The outpouring of love and support we felt from people was just incredible," Tommy recalled. "A lot of people stayed well after the meeting was over, extending their hotel stays. Some people left, then came back for the funeral."
Tommy still enjoys working, even though he has reached a point in life where he could slow down and take things easier. "I still love the chase, and I still come in at 6 a.m. every day when the plant starts up."
"Another reason," he added, "is that Donna isn’t ready to have me around the house. That could bring disaster to a great relationship."
Do you want reprints or a copyright license for this article? Click here
Research and connect with suppliers mentioned in this article using our FREE ZIP Online service.