Columbus mgrs. acquire former Ebbers’ property

Published 5:00 am Friday, August 4, 2006

Columbus Lumber Company – previously owned by former WorldComCEO Bernie Ebbers – was acquired by the company’s existing managersand an undisclosed private equity group in a sale that wasfinalized July 31.

Existing President and General Manager Jeff Grierson and VicePresident and Chief Financial Officer Doug Boykin, who have servedthe company for the past two years, partnered with the equity groupin a purchase that will keep operations and employment localized.The company currently employs 144 people.

“The driving motivation that Doug and I had in pursuing thepurchase of Columbus Lumber was because of our employees, and weknew that we wanted to stay here in Brookhaven,” Grierson said.

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Columbus Lumber had been held in trust for the past year as partof the liquidation of Ebbers’ assets, leaving employees uncertainof what would become of their jobs when the company came under newownership.

“It’s been a big cloud hanging over this business for some time,and I know everyone is relieved that it is finally over and we canbegin a new chapter,” Boykin said.

The partners did not disclose the purchase price, but the lowestqualifying bid received that met purchase requirements was $17.75million, according to an advertisement by the trustee, DevelopmentSpecialists, Inc.

Grierson and Boykin said they expect no significant operationalchanges, but admitted that opportunities to operate moreefficiently exist. Any future changes made will be in concert withmaking the business more viable, and that will be done inconjunction with employees, Grierson said.

Grierson and Boykin said that after hearing the company wasgoing on the market, they immediately knew they wanted to pursueownership.

“We didn’t feel like the Lord had moved us to Brookhaven to turnaround and move after two short years,” Grierson said. “We justfelt like there was a calling for us to be here.”

Boykin said his and Grierson’s management style, including opencommunication and employee involvement, helped move the businessforward during the period of uncertainty.

“Jeff and Doug really assured us that they were going to be surethat the company was sold to someone that had the employees’interests at heart,” said Bonnie Moak, an account executive in thesales department.

Hurricane Katrina hit while the company was being held in trust,but the business probably had record-setting shipping rates duringthose months, Young said.

“We never looked back,” Young said. “We just kept onmanufacturing, kept on selling and kept on shipping.”

Plant Manager Eddie Nelson said Grierson and Boykin made theprocess easier for employees by trying to keep the morale up.

“Working 140-something people, they’re going to worry,” Nelsonsaid. “All of them were worried about their jobs, whether they weregoing to have a job. Jeff and Doug were having meetings, keepingeverybody informed, just trying to keep on going with day-to-dayoperations.”

Timber Department Manager Ellis Moak said the community willbenefit from the new ownership, as well as the employees becausethe timber industry is a large contributor to Lincoln County’seconomy.

Grierson and Boykin have focused goals for the company’sfuture.

Grierson said he looks forward to the company taking a moreproactive stance in its involvement with the city council andmayor.

Columbus Lumber began operations in 1943 and now produces morethan 85 million board feet of lumber each year.

“We want to continue to provide the great quality of productsand services that our customers have come to know Columbus Lumberfor and to continue to strive to optimize the businesseffectively,” Grierson said.