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Centered CEOs: President of Maine lumber company tells UNH forum about his leadership philosophy

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent

November 12. 2017 9:16PM
Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber, reads a passage from his book at the UNH CEO Forum on Thursday morning. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

DURHAM — Losing his voice helped Kevin Hancock save his Maine-based business, the president of Hancock Lumber told a roomful of business people last week at the University of New Hampshire.

Hancock, speaking at the UNH CEO Forum in Huddleston Hall, said he started having trouble talking during the peak of the market collapse in 2010.

“All of the muscles in my throat would spasm and squeeze and contract,” he said. “Talking left me sore, dizzy and out of breath.”

Hancock was diagnosed with a rare neurological spasmatic disorder that affects only his normal speaking voice. Now he gets relief through Botox treatments in his vocal cords, but before he knew what was going on, Hancock was still under pressure to lead his family-owned lumber company through an economic crisis.

So Hancock just started asking employees who needed advice how they thought they could solve the problem, he said.

“Somebody would come up to me with a question and I would say, ‘That’s a really good question. What do you think we should do about it?’” Hancock said.

When the employee answered, Hancock would say, “That sounds good. Let’s go do that.”

“And off he or she would go, owning his or her solution to his or her problem,” Hancock said, adding that he realized the people asking him these questions knew the ins and outs of their division of the company better than he did.

By 2012, the economy had stabilized, and Hancock was at the Portland airport with his wife, Alison. He saw an article about the rebirth of the Sioux nation and decided he wanted to take a trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Hancock has been to the impoverished reservation 13 times now, and wrote the book, “Not For Sale: Finding Center in the Land of Crazy Horse” about what he has learned there. It was published in 2015.

Hancock’s philosophy on power has been impacted dramatically by his visits.

“Throughout history those with the most power have overreached. Overreaching has its consequences,” Hancock said of the genocide of Native Americans.

The crowd listens to Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber, talk about how in nature, power is meant to be dispersed, not collected in the hands of the few. He tries to remember that when running his family business, he said. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

Hancock was asked how his employees have reacted to his personal changes and disbursement of power throughout his 170-year-old lumber company. He said they have worked together to improve wages and working conditions in a place where everyone can grow and share their voice.

Hancock Lumber, with administrative offices in Casco, Maine, is a sixth-generation family-owned business with 475 employees. It operates 10 retail stores, three sawmills and manages 12,000 acres of timberland.

The next UNH CEO Forum, scheduled for 8 a.m. Jan. 18, will feature Ross Gittell, chancellor of Community College Systems of New Hampshire, who is an authority on economic analysis and forecasting. The forum is a program of the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. Visit unh-ceoforum.org/ for more information.


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