Lunch With D CEO: Jamie Hawley

The head of Weir's Furniture talks about facing up to increasing competition.

For more than six decades, Weir’s Furniture has been a family-run business. J. Ray Weir started the company with his wife, Bea, in 1948. The Knox Street flagship, with its quaint post office and country store, is a fixture in Dallas, selling all manners of furniture—and a Christian message—to local families for nearly four generations. But in January, the company announced a change. For the first time in its history, Weir was bringing in an outsider to lead the business. That outsider: Jamie Hawley. 

Hawley has more than 25 years of executive experience, mostly in the food and telecommunications industries. But he has something else, too. He’s also an active member of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, where he counsels young men and newly married couples. He knows how to trace a conflict or problem to its roots—which often begins by asking young men about their fathers. He knows when to interject and offer advice, and he knows when private issues need to be dealt with privately. In short, Hawley knows families. (He also knows family businesses: Growing up, his family owned a restaurant and grocery store, where he started working when he was 6 years old.) 

I sat down for lunch with Hawley a few weeks after he took over as CEO. We met at The Second Floor Restaurant in the Westin Galleria, on a cold and blustery day—weather Hawley decided was right for a burger with bleu cheese. In person, Hawley looks like he just walked off the set of a family television show where he’d play the calm, wise preacher-father character.

Hawley thinks he can make the business, which did a reported $80 million in sales last year, more efficient.

He talks about what an “iconic, phenomenal brand” Weir’s Furniture is, and how he sees shopping there as a friendly neighborhood experience. He talks about how happy he was to meet employees who have worked for Weir’s for more than 30 years. One salesman in particular has moved more than $1 million worth of furniture for each of the last 31 years. 

“He’s been to weddings and funerals of people he’s sold to,” Hawley says. “He’s seen their kids grow up and go to college and get married and have kids and come back to buy their own furniture.” 

Hawley also talks about the Weir family, both past and present, with great reverence. (He reports to the chairman of the board, Todd Moore, who is the grandson of the company’s founders.) “I think the family was looking at the fact that there wasn’t a successor internally,” Hawley explains. “They felt they could take the brand to the next level and stay relevant.”

He thinks he can make the business, which did a reported $80 million in sales at five locations last year, more efficient before they open new stores. Some of that will be logistics and warehouse management. But this is also where those family assessment skills come in. These days, Hawley spends most of his time talking with employees at every level in every location, and he plans to ride on the delivery trucks soon. He wants to make sure each individual is in a position that matches both the person’s strengths and goals. Maybe there’s someone on the sales floor who’d make a better accountant. “Between expectation and reality is disappointment,” he tells me between bites. “It’s the same thing in any relationship.”

In church, he sometimes tells young men about the first fight he and his wife had. It was about how he’d put the toilet paper on the roll backwards. “I had no idea there was a right way,” he laughs. “I was looking for credit just for putting it on.”

Though he says Weir’s had its best year ever in 2014, the stakes are going up quickly with Nebraska Furniture Mart moving to North Texas. “I welcome competition,” Hawley tells me. He points out that new homes are going up in every direction. And more big corporations will be moving in soon. “That’s a lot of new families in town,” he says with a smile. “And they’ll all need furniture.”  

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