Greensboro, N.C.—Tom Beard of Beard Hardwoods Inc., located here, has family roots in the lumber industry that date back to 1919 when his father Ernest Neilson Beard Jr. began his career in Memphis, Tenn.
During what was possibly the worst year of the Depression, 1932, Neil Beard braved all odds and opened his own wholesale business, which was E.N. Beard Lumber Company, to serve the North Carolina and Virginia territory. He was influenced by Tom Broyhill, founder of Broyhill Furniture, and Bill Bassett of Bassett Furniture.
In 1956, Thomas ‘Tom’ Beard entered the business with his father after serving in the Army Finance Corps in France. By 1968, he persuaded his father to help him start what is now Piedmont Hardwood Dry Kiln Co. to serve the furniture and millwork industry both domestically as well as foreign markets.
Later the E.N. Beard Lumber Co. was purchased by Tom Beard, Fred Sievers and Henry Sienkiewicz. The name was slightly changed to E.N. Beard Hardwood Lumber Inc., and was built to one of the finest wholesale Hardwood firms in America. Henry Sienkiewicz passed away in 1990 and Fred Sievers retired due to poor health in 1996, so Tom brought his son John from Beard's Kentucky office to help run the business. John is the current majority stockholder and President/CEO. Tom still serves as chairman of the board after his retirement.
Throughout his time of about 55 years in the forest products industry, Tom has served as the director of National Hardwood Lumber Association, president of the North Carolina Forestry Association, and president of the Appalachian Lumbermen’s Club. He has also spoken to groups at colleges to help educate the up and coming lumbermen. “I’ve spoken to the graduate classes of North Carolina State University and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The goal is to educate the people about how we are actually growing more forests than we harvest each year,” he explained.
When asked what advice he would give to a new lumberman just starting out he said, “The only way to learn in this business is by ‘doing.’ I would suggest to anybody new in the industry to go to the NHLA Inspector Grading School in Memphis, Tenn., to learn how lumber is graded. “You have to visit people one-on-one. I still believe that you can’t do it all on the telephone and email. You have to call on people and meet them face-to-face. In my many years I stayed on the road and I knew all the presidents of the companies and the people in the factory, and the people on the yard—you need to meet all of these people so you can understand how to truly ‘meet’ their needs.”
Tom has three children: John, Richard and Ann and five grandchildren. Although he is retired, Tom still comes into the office daily and also advises his son John. “The Hardwood furniture industry has changed and Beard Hardwoods continues to change with it to meet its needs,” he said. “About 38 years ago we started exporting into Japan and now we export 80 percent of our lumber to Europe and Asia.
With approximately 28 employees, E.N. Beard Hardwood Lumber Inc. and Piedmont Dry Kiln Company were merged about three years ago to form Beard Hardwoods, Inc. The company has 400,000 board feet of dry kiln capacity, a wood waste boiler and computerized lumber handling equipment.
“At Beard Hardwoods we’re not trying to be the biggest Hardwood lumber company, but we strive to be the best at what we do.”