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Ganahl Lumber Sees Its First CEO Change In Over 50 Years

Peter Ganahl’s key to running the largest lumberyard in California is simple.

“We want to make builders and other users of our products successful in their projects,” Ganahl told the Business Journal. “It’s not about us.”

This year now marks 140 years of Ganahl Lumber being in business. The company has since grown to 680 local employees and 11 total locations, including a 50,000-square-foot store that opened in San Juan Capistrano last year.

Ganahl took over Ganahl Lumber Co. when he was only 27 years old when his father, John Sr., died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1973.

The company on May 29 announced that Brad Satterfield would replace Ganahl as chief executive. Satterfield has been with Ganahl Lumber for 40 years and previously served as chief operating officer.

“Brad has been an integral part of the Ganahl family for more than 40 years,” Ganahl said in the announcement.

“Starting as an order puller, he’s held various roles since, including operations manager, sales manager, general manager and COO. What does Brad love most about his role? He’s exhilarated by leading the drive to become the best LBM (lumber and building materials) business!”

Lumber Business

The lumber industry in California during the 1980s was much more fragmented than it is today, according to Ganahl.

He recalls there being 120 lumberyards across Orange County, Los Angeles and Riverside County. Today, there’s less than 30, he said.

“One of the things going on in that period was consolidation,” Ganahl said. “We’re the one that hung around and made it all the way.”

When Ganahl first joined the business, he said the company had 35 employees and was generating $2 million in sales.

Under his leadership, Ganahl Lumber now counts 1,050 employees companywide and $756 million in revenue as of last year, ranking No. 25 on the Business Journal’s annual list of the largest private companies.

“There was a lot of growth,” Ganahl said.

The company’s long history was recognized with the longevity award at the Business Journal’s Family-Owned Business Awards in 2010.

In addition to its customer-first mindset, Ganahl credits the company’s reliability for its success. Ganahl said the company has over 100 trucks, which helps with quick turnaround times on deliveries.

“Speed is really important in this business where we have to be able to do things fast,” Ganahl said.

Ganahl Lumber is in the process of building more facilities with the next location likely to be in San Diego, Ganahl said.

As Ganahl Lumber adds more locations, Ganahl said that he wants the company to remain within Southern California.

“That’s who we are and that’s where we’re going to stay,” Ganahl said.

51 Years

Ganahl has been CEO of the company for the last 51 years. Prior to joining Ganahl Lumber, he worked as a welder, steel worker and avocado picker.

“High-level CEO preparation kind of jobs,” Ganahl joked.

Ganahl said he was more interested in “what made trees grow” than regular schoolwork and labs while studying forestry at Oregon State University.

Ganahl began working full time at the company in 1968 and became president in 1973 after his father’s death.

“I was experiencing all the things that a seasoned veteran would know a lot about, but from the other side,” Ganahl said.

During that time, the company rebuilt its Anaheim location, moving it from an old part of town to a 20-acre lumber yard near the Angel Stadium.

“That created other learning experiences,” Ganahl said.

In 1976, he made the decision to install an employee stock ownership plan, allowing employees to own shares in the company.

“It’s not just executives, it’s also truck drivers and millworkers,” Ganahl said.

Employees currently represent 37% of the total ownership of the company, according to Ganahl. The rest are owned by family members.

“So, somebody who’s been with us, and there are some people that have been here since we started it in 1976, they’re retired with a stock portfolio of Ganahl Lumber shares that have grown in value,” Ganahl said.

He now runs the company with his brother John Ganahl Jr. The two brothers grew up in the business sweeping floors and doing other chores.

Ganahl’s two sons, Peter D. Ganahl and Mark Ganahl, are also in the family business.

The History of Ganahl Lumber

Ganahl Lumber’s roots trace back to Peter Ganahl’s great great uncle Christian Ganahl and his brother Frank in 1884. The two Austrian immigrants bought tickets from St. Louis to Los Angeles to join the building boom happening in Southern California at the time.

Christian purchased a lumber company, which he named C. Ganahl Lumber Co., and went on to open several more yards in Los Angeles and one in Anaheim as part of his “branch theory.”

For the next 30 years, the company would undergo more ownership and name changes, including the addition of plywood and hardware to its growing product line.

It was Peter Ganahl’s father John Sr. in 1964 that finally changed the company name to Ganahl Lumber Co.

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