From Board Room to Campaign Trail

By Chelsie Butler
May 13, 2013

Tom Wolf, CEO of WOLF, a major supplier of kitchen and bath cabinetry and building products, has officially declared his run for governor of Pennsylvania next year. Among the more important issues that decorate his Democratic platform are: developing more jobs, improving education and investing in infrastructure.

Wolf, a businessman for more than 30 years, says his experience in the industry has helped him prepare for his run; namely his leadership during an extremely difficult period at the company, where he orchestrated a major turnaround.

A Little Background

Before he and his cousin bought the company from his parents in 1986 and eventually turned it into the $400-million entity it is today, Wolf was headed in a different direction. After going back to his hometown in south central Pennsylvania to write his dissertation – which would gain him a PhD in political science from MIT – he realized he really liked being back home and became interested in his family’s building products business while working in the warehouse.

During his first 25 years with the company, Wolf also participated actively in civic affairs through such positions as Chair of the York County Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the United Way of York County and Chair of the York County Community Foundation. Wolf and his cousin sold their business in 2007, and the next year, then-Governor Ed Rendell appointed Wolf to the position of Pennsylvania Secretary of Revenue.

Turnaround at WOLF

Wolf suspended a 2010 gubernatorial campaign to return to WOLF, which was faltering during the recession.

“We bought the business back because we thought it was the right thing to do,” said Wolf. “We didn’t want to leave those people hanging.”

To bring the company out of debt, Wolf wanted to drive the supply chain, which wasn’t happening under the two-step distributor model they were using.

“The driver in our former model was the manufacturer, not the distributor,” he said. “We could only sell what they wanted us to sell, and we had much more value to add than what they were giving us credit for.”

Wolf and his team went on a research initiative to understand what the market wanted, turned those ideas into concrete designs and found manufacturers capable of creating those products. They did this with the kitchen and bathroom cabinet sector, followed up with building products, and in 2011 WOLF introduced its own brand.

“This year, about 70 percent of our gross profit will come from WOLF-branded products,” he said.

Political Agenda

The turnaround at his company, paired with Wolf’s extensive civic, economic development and revenue experience, has played a pivotal role in his campaign.

-       - Employment. “Every politician will tell you the key to every election is jobs,” he said, “and I understand how to create jobs.” He believes a progressive agenda is pivotal to creating and sustaining these jobs – beginning with education.

-       - Education. Wolf’s plan is to not disinvest in education but rather to find ways to improve the experience and extend it into the early childhood years.

-       -Infrastructure. “It doesn’t make sense not to invest in our existing infrastructure,” he said. “When I am transporting cabinets, we incur more damage because the roads are in such bad shape.” According to Wolf, Pennsylvania has always been at the forefront of the transportation revolutions, but he believes there is a need for an East-West high-speed rail to transport people and goods, which would be “good economic development for the state.” 

Wolf also says the Pennsylvania tax code is riddled with loopholes. “This is an obvious place to level the playing field,” he added.

Another message Wolf wants to convey is that whether he wins or loses the Pennsylvania election for governor next year, he will remain an active part of his company.

“Our business is still growing,” he added, “and we are on our way to being in every part of the country.”

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