A “responsibility” to get involved
Entrepreneur Robert Stolz isn’t just about his business—he’s also working for the good of North Carolina
Robert Stolz had been in Charlotte just a couple of weeks when a group of older men from the business community came to visit him.
They handed him a list of organizations—the state Democratic party, the state Chamber of Commerce, Leadership North Carolina—and suggested he get involved with them.
Stolz (AB ’85) told them thanks, he’d look into it. That wasn’t good enough apparently so they made the message clearer.
“If you live here and do business here you don’t just live here and do business here,” Stolz says he was told. “You have a responsibility to get involved.”
Since then he has been very involved. Currently chairman of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, Stolz also has served as chair of the State Economic Development Board and the board of directors for the N.C. Department of Commerce. He also is a member of the board of directors of Novant Healthcare and Charlotte Country Day School.
Meanwhile he’s helped grow a lumber company into part of a major conglomerate with subsidiaries in 84 countries.
This was not the career he expected when he left UGA in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“I was going to law school,” says Stolz, whose dad and grandfather were lawyers and served terms as state judges. His brother is a lawyer and his mom a paralegal.
I went to law school. I hated it and dropped out,” he says, adding that the decision was not a popular one at home.
It was 1987 and campaigns for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination were in full swing. Stolz signed on to raise money in Georgia for Sen. Dick Gephardt’s campaign. When Gephardt left the race, Stolz went to work for Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young as a lobbyist for the city and was actively involved in the city’s successful bids for the 1996 Olympic Games and the 2000 Super Bowl.
In 1989, Tom Perdue, chief of staff for Georgia Gov. Joe Frank Harris while Stolz worked for Young, asked Stolz to help him start up a series of small banks in metro Atlanta counties. Stolz found himself again in the fundraising role, pursuing investors to launch the banks. Soon after the banks were established, they were sold to SouthTrust. It was time for Stolz to move on once again.
His wife’s father had a business selling lumber to furniture makers. He asked Stolz to run his small branch office in Charlotte and expand the company.
“I knew nothing about the business, ” Stolz says, “but I knew enough to surround myself with good and smart folks.”
He and wife Anne Gray Howard (BSEd ’85) moved to Charlotte and Stolz hit the road once again, opening branch offices of Charlotte Hardwood Center throughout the Southeast. In seven years the company grew from one branch office to nine and from $5 million in revenues to $55 million.
In 1999, the Wurth Group, a family-owned company out of Europe, offered to buy the company. Stolz liked the people and agreed to sell, planning to stay on for just a few years. He has been there ever since, and as the company has continued to grow he has moved from head of U.S. operations to overseeing operations throughout North America. He’s now on the company’s management board, providing the strategic vision for the different companies within the corporation.
“It’s all about people,” says Stolz, now an advisory trustee for the Arch Foundation at UGA. “You’re leading people, motivating people. The trick is to hire people smarter than you.”