Ralph Boe took the helm of Beaulieu America during tumultuous times.
The Dalton-based floorcovering company was rocked by a federal tax evasion charge that led to the temporary removal of its CEO and executive vice president from day-to-day operations. As part of a plea agreement, the company was slapped with back taxes, fines, penalties and court costs totaling more than $33 million.
Adding to the trouble at the time was the infancy of the national recession. The economic slowdown would later stagger the housing industry, leading floorcovering makers to shutter plants, slash payroll and eliminate thousands of jobs.
That was June 2007. That same month Beaulieu’s board of directors tabbed Boe as the company’s next CEO.
Almost six years later, he is stepping down.
On Tuesday, Boe said he will retire from Beaulieu effective Feb. 28, 2014. Karel Vercruyssen, who was named president and chief operating officer of Beaulieu America in April 2012, has been promoted to company president and CEO. For the next 10 months, Boe will be a co-CEO assisting Vercruyssen and the company’s management team. Boe joined Beaulieu in June 2001 and had run the daily operations of the world’s third largest carpet manufacturer ever since. Beaulieu has about 5,000 employees.
“You always plan that some time you’re going to retire,” Boe told The Daily Citizen on Tuesday. “It just seemed like the right time. We have a whole new kind of regime, a next generation of leaders coming through the company.”
One of those leaders is Vercruyssen.
In him, Beaulieu has a president and CEO who is familiar with the company and the floorcovering business. Prior to joining Beaulieu America in 2012, Vercruyssen was CEO and president of Beaulieu Canada for five years.
As president and COO, Vercruyssen has overseen the commercial division, woven fabrics, specialty fabrics, residential and operations. He joined Beaulieu Canada in March 2007 as CEO and a board member. Vercruyssen has a degree in business engineering (quantitative production management) from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He has worked in several industries (semi-conductor, yarn and fiber extrusion, automotive and carpet) in management positions.
“I am honored and look forward to taking the position of CEO of Beaulieu America and continuing to work with our employees, customers, board, suppliers and communities to make this the best company for everyone involved and increase our position in the industry,” Vercruyssen said.
Not only was Boe the face of the company for 12 years, he was active in several community organizations including the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership, the United Way of Northwest Georgia and the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation. He has also served on the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute’s board of directors for 12 years.
During that time, CRI President Werner Braun said he came to know Boe on a professional and personal level. Braun said Boe “obviously had the best interest of the industry always at heart” when tackling industry issues while on various CRI boards. Braun also recruited Boe to be the vice chairman of a special committee for the Whitfield Healthcare Foundation.
“A lot of people don’t realize what guys like Ralph Boe do behind the scenes for the betterment of the community,” Braun said. “They don’t get any of the limelight or seek any recognition, they just quietly go about doing things that improve the quality of life for everybody in this community.”
Boe brought a wealth of knowledge to Beaulieu’s CEO position. He has more than 40 years of experience in both the carpet and fiber business. In 2011 Boe received the floorcovering industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the trade show Surfaces.
From 1983 to 1984, he managed a $500-million fiber business for E.I. du Pont de Nemours Inc. (textile fibers) as part of his 15-year tenure with that company. He was president of Horizon Industries for nine years from the mid 1980s until 1992, and then was the president and CEO of Diamond Rug and Carpet Mills from 1993 to 1996. Prior to joining Beaulieu in April 2001, he spent four and a half years as CEO/managing director of Carpets International, the largest carpet manufacturer in the United Kingdom.
He believes the floorcovering industry is rebounding from the harm caused by the Great Recession. Markets including single-family homes, multi-family homes and hospitality have shown improvement in recent months, he said. Floorcovering companies will continue to diversify as they adjust to “the different dynamic” as the amount of hard surfaces consumers purchase continues to increase, he said.
“I think it’s been a very rewarding 12 years for me,” Boe said. “When I came in it was a difficult time for the company financially and we were able to make some changes at that point and had time to recover from that difficulty. We started coming out of those problems that we had by 2002 and we had a great run through the years until the business started to turn down in the industry, then we had to regroup again. And now I see us having come out of that little dip and going on to much bigger and greater things.”
Looking back on his time at the company, Boe said he is proud Beaulieu was able to move from primarily a nylon and polypropylene product into polyester offerings.
“That meant coming out with products that were different enough from the polyester of old to convince the dealers that these were good, credible products that were going to perform,” Boe said. “As a company we were very much in the forefront there.”
The company was also successful in differentiating its carpets with the new retail name Bliss, he said.
Boe doesn’t have any immediate plans after his retirement is official early next year. He plans to continue living in Atlanta, which he has called home for the past 30 years. Boe referred to Dalton as his “second home.”
“I think it’s a special community that is willing to stand up and support all of its inhabitants, as well as our industry has done over the years,” Boe said. “I’ll miss all of that. I’ll miss all the great people here at Beaulieu who have been very dedicated, very committed, very loyal and just wish them all well going forward and hope for the company’s continued success.”
While Boe is retiring from Beaulieu, he may not be finished with his professional career.
“I guess I’ll go on to whatever my next career in life is going to be,” Boe said. “And that really hasn’t been planned yet. That could be in a totally different industry. All that remains to be seen.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding his next career move, Boe is sure he will cherish the relationships he has made in the floorcovering industry and the Dalton community.
“It’s been a great industry for me and my family,” Boe said. “I’ve been around the Dalton area on and off since 1970 actually when I started with du Pont up in Chattanooga. So you build a lot of strong relationships with customers, with people that you work with in different companies in the industry and you know all of the competitors that we’ve had to compete with over the years and we’ve had good friendships with them as well. Although we compete day in and day out, we’re still kind of a friendly industry from a personal standpoint.”
As Boe took over as Beaulieu CEO in the summer of 2007, the company had pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion dating to 2000 and paid $33.38 million in back taxes, fines, penalties and court costs. No individuals were criminally charged. As part of the plea agreement, Carl Bouckaert stepped down as company CEO but remained on the company’s board of directors. He was banned from being part of the company’s day-to-day operations. His ex-wife, Mieke Hanssens, stepped down as executive vice president and also could not be involved in day-to-day operations. She remained on the company’s board.
The back taxes and fines were from Beaulieu knowingly overstating its depreciation deduction for four 12-position spinning machines for the production of carpet yarn at its Bridgeport, Ala., plant for the 1995 through 2000 tax years in the total amount of $5.919 million.
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