April 2015
Co-op Matters

Manager of the Year

Wayne Gilliam’s family are all smiles with his receiving the E. P. Garratt Manager of the Year award at AFC’s 78th annual meeting in Montgomery; from left, Tim, Anabel, Wayne and Cole Gilliam.  

Wayne Gilliam, a three time recipient of the E. P. Garrett Award, has produced impressive results at Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op in Newport.

Adjusting to changing times can make or break a business, but Wayne Gilliam has mastered it with ease during his more than four decades as manager of Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op in Northport.

"It’s all about accepting the fact that change will happen and being ready for it when it does happen," he said after being named the E. P. Garrett Manager of the Year at AFC’s 78th annual meeting in Montgomery.

He also wanted to dedicate the award to the memory of Roger Pangle, AFC’s late president who passed in 2013.

  Wayne Gilliam, left, and Tommy Paulk, retired president of AFC, share a moment. Paulk was not surprised for Gilliam to have received his third Manager of the Year recognition.

A standing ovation greeted Gilliam as his name was announced at the meeting held on Feb. 25 at the Renaissance Hotel in Montgomery. He became only the second manager to be so honored a third time.

More than 200 managers, spouses and friends turned out for an event that had a lower than usual attendance due to snow and icy roads in north Alabama.

When AFC President Rivers Myres began reading background details about the recipient of the coveted annual award, it didn’t take long for most in the huge meeting room to begin looking in Gilliam’s direction.

Myres mentioned "impressive results" at Gilliam’s business during the past decade in which sales increased by 225 percent. Patronage equity also increased 116 percent during the same period. They were key factors leading to Gilliam’s selection.

His major accomplishments also included 2 years of consecutive profitability – something that didn’t surprise those who have known Gilliam during his nearly 45 years as a successful manager at the Tuscaloosa Co-op.

Former AFC President Tommy Paulk, who is one of Gilliam’s best friends, also cited several other accomplishments highlighted by a "resuscitation" effort that turned the Tuscaloosa business from a loser to a winner.

"When Wayne took over as manager, it wasn’t doing well," Paulk recalled. "One of the first things he did was focus on his changing clientele. He only has about a dozen farmers as customers in his area, so he’s concentrated on those who live in urban areas."

As a result, Paulk said, Gilliam’s management efforts have zeroed in on helping homeowners, gardeners and other Tuscaloosa County residents who live far from farms.

What means the most to Paulk, however, is Gilliam’s "integrity and honesty," traits that have won him lots of loyal customers through the years.

"Wayne never meets a stranger and is always gonna tell you the truth," Paulk said. "When he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it. He’s one in a million."

Gilliam, 66, grew up on a farm managed by his Baptist preacher father who expected his son to get his chores done as soon as he got up early in the morning to milk the cows before he went to school.

"I never had any intention of being a farmer," Gilliam said. "It was a hard life and I knew it, but I was able to do my job. As it turned out, agriculture has been my life."

Uncle Sam called during the Vietnam War and Gilliam wound up in an Army mechanized infantry unit.

Back home in Alabama, he put his military service far behind him as he become a clerk and truck driver before he was hired at the Co-op in Tuscaloosa. It wasn’t long before he was running the operation.

Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op, has known Gilliam for the past 30 years and continues to admire his administrative skills.

"Wayne is a taskmaster," Wood stated. "He’s a guy who is up early in the morning and often works late into the night to make sure the job gets done right."

Wood also said Gilliam is demanding when it comes to his employees, but does it to set a personal example.

"Wayne lets those who work for him know he’s ready to do the same things they do if need be," said Wood. "He may have an aggressive personality, but he is really just a big old teddy bear."

Gilliam, whose hair has turned snow white through the years, continues to work long, hard hours. His wife Anabel has said his only hobby is "work."

The two will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year. They have two sons Tim, 36, and Cole, 31. Cole holds his dad as his mentor and may, one day, take over management of the Co-op.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.