In its latest installment of “A Leader’s Journey,” the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) highlighted the career of Piet Dossche, CEO and founder of USFloors (now part of the Shaw Industries umbrella) and executive vice president of Shaw hard surface.
In its latest installment of “A Leader’s Journey,” the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) highlighted the career of Piet Dossche, CEO and founder of USFloors (now part of the Shaw Industries umbrella) and executive vice president of Shaw hard surface. Dossche, noted WFCA CEO Scott Humphrey, “is the man most responsible for the LVT (luxury vinyl tile) tsunami that has swept over the industry in the last few years.”
Dossche has worked in floor covering all his life since the beginning of his career with Beaulieu in Belgium in 1981, though at that time he already envisioned himself moving to the U.S. “In the U.S., everything was growing like crazy,” he said, noting how impressed he was with the can-do attitude of Americans.
Of his beginnings in the industry, Dossche started work in the sample department and kept his head down, moving from Belgium to the U.K. when an opportunity to do so arose. “I always say everybody has an ‘aha’ moment in life,” said Dossche. “One night the phone rang around 11:00 and I was the only one still awake, everybody else had gone to bed. I picked it up and it was Roger De Clerck, the owner and founder of Beaulieu in Belgium.”
De Clerck asked Dossche a litany of questions about what had gone on in the factory that day, such as how many square meters had been made. To each question, Dossche had to answer that he didn’t know and finally De Clerck got so frustrated with the lack of answers that he hung up the phone. “I didn’t sleep that night but the next morning I said this would never happen again, that I would be asked questions that I couldn’t answer. The next day, I started asking questions and understanding the process,” Dossche noted.
The more you know about what is going on, Dossche said, the more people will share with you. Because Dossche took the initiative, when the managing director left in 1984, De Clerck offered Dossche the job. “If you’re not proactive yourself, nothing is going to happen. Make things happen yourself. The world is very individualistic and they’re not going to share unless you ask, but when you ask, the world opens up,” Dossche explained. “Knowledge is power.”
Lead by Example
Leaders, regardless of which industry they are working in, tend to have a particular leadership style. Dossche described his style as demanding but I’m fair. “I’m demanding because I’m passionate. When I believe in something, I’m all in and I want my team to be all in as well,” Dossche asserted. While he does not tolerate mediocrity, he does take care of those who work for him, Dossche said. “People react very well to a positive attitude and being treated well and being compensated well; you need to compensate people.”
Real leaders do not ask of their people things they would not do themselves, Dossche explained. “When I ask people to go the extra mile or pull the extra weight it’s because I will do it myself and have done it myself.” It’s about passion and deep determination, he said. “If you have a goal, don’t give up until you reach it.” And don’t expect the journey to be a straight line, he warned. “Many times, you will zig and zag,” but always keep your eye on the goal, he said.
Forging a Path
After leaving Beaulieu and starting his own bamboo flooring company, Dossche partnered with Philippe Erramuzpe, who was working on a cork flooring product. The two met at trade shows and saw each other’s products, eventually deciding to team up to create USFloors. “Long story short, we became friends and joined forces. He became a very strong partner of mine and helped me build USFloors to what it became,” Dossche shared.
When the market crashed in 2007-2008, Dossche had to persevere. After all, he was literally “all in,” having signed everything away, including putting his house up for collateral. “You persevere because there’s no way back. You’re all in. Eventually, you dig yourself out of the hole,” Dossche explained.
Seeing the explosive growth in LVT made Dossche want to be a part of that story. “I wanted to do something different, find a different way to be part of the LVT story,” he said. In his travels to China, Dossche found a WPC product that was being used for outdoor decking and realized it could be a great material for flooring. “It took about a year and a half to get the formulation, construction, etc. right. When we did it, we knew. It was big, because it was solving a problem,” he said.
Keeping it Real
Humphrey read some statements from those who have worked with Dossche, touting his leadership style and what they enjoyed most about working for him, speaking to his genuine nature, his passion and his drive.
“I feel a little uncomfortable to hear all these nice words and everything, this is not my style. I want to stay humble because you have to stay with your feet on the ground,” Dossche said, adding he has been very fortunate in his endeavors.
“Shaw came to us and said at the end of 2016 they wanted us to be part of the Shaw family. Everyone has contributed to this success — it’s not just me — but there has to be a leader. I listen to people, I want people to push back, I don’t want yes men. I don’t have all the answers,” he said. However, he said a leader’s responsibility is to take all the information provided them and make the decisions as well as taking the responsibility for those decisions. “Running the company is not a democracy. Someone has to call the shots,” he said.
In terms of competition, Dossche said he has nothing but respect for his competitors. “At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. We are trying to create something that’s long lasting, that’s comfortable for all of us … We talk, we go to convention and have a drink together, come Monday we go our own way and do what’s best for our company,” Dossche said, and added, “We’ve got a great industry.”
It’s been a strange year, Dossche said, and of course we are all looking forward to seeing the effects of the pandemic come to an end. The flooring industry, he said, has weathered this storm well and we are all “COVID winners” in spite of the challenges we’ve faced. “Our business is strong; our industry is strong … we are very fortunate that we are in an industry that has not suffered through COVID. We had setbacks and challenges, but that’s nothing to other industries,” Dossche noted.
In the immediate future, Dossche advised a focus on balance, using common sense by wearing a mask but also not shutting down the economy either. In the meantime, he said, “For 2021 the outlook is good. The housing market is going to stay strong, renovations, pent up demand, people moving from the city to the suburbs.” Dossche noted the challenge will be commercial and what that will look like going forward.
“The whole world will find a solution to COVID, then we’ll all want to break out again and that will create a tremendous amount of economic growth as well,” Dossche predicted. The whole industry is seeing exciting innovations, he added, and said retailers will have to find a way to participate in Ecommerce and DIY to capture some of the share from big box stores. “I’m very optimistic,” he said.
Dossche ended with some inspirational thoughts. “Be positive, have a great attitude toward your team and support them in any way you can, and make the decisions so they know what direction you’re going. Be passionate about what you do. If you’re passionate, if you’re positive, your team feels good and they’ll run through the wall for you.”
“These are truly uncharted waters that we are sailing in right now. Nobody knows what exactly is going to happen … as a leader, today you have to step up to the plate and truly be the leader. Truly take the helm and be the one that’s navigating your ship through these stormy waters.” – Piet Dossche, USFloors & Shaw