Woodcraft CEO recognized for entrepreneurial success

By Caleb Brabham
June 11, 2015 at 4 a.m. 

Gene Ponder, CEO of Master Woodcraft Cabinetry LLC., was awarded Wednesday with the Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award by the Kilgore College Small Business Development Center.

Director of the center Brad Bunt addressed attendees, saying Ponder exemplified what it meant to be an entrepreneur, calling the CEO tenacious, decisive, competitive and a man of integrity.

"These are just (a few) traits, but there a thousand others that we could mention that are associated with him, and make up Mr. and Ms. Ponder," Bunt said. "We are here to celebrate your accomplishments, your business and your family. This is a family business. It's an East Texas business, and we're so proud of you here. East Texas is a better place because you located here."

Presenting the Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award was U.S. Small Business Administration Regional Administrator Region VI Yolanda Olivarez. Olivarez, a 2009 appointee of President Barack Obama, leads the delivery of SBA's financial, entrepreneurial development, government contracting and international export initiatives that assist more than 3.3 million small businesses. Her territory includes a five state region, including Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Olivarez told of how she recently met the Ponders at the Dallas National Small Business Award Gala, saying she was taken aback by the power of Ponder's story.

"There were several small businesses there, but Mr. Ponder stole the show. He talked about himself, but more importantly, he talked about his employees. One of the things that really stood out to me is that he could have gone off and made a great deal of history the first time he was in business, he had served so many people," Olivarez said. "But, basically, he said he came out of retirement for his employees. This is a person that thinks not of himself but of others. This is what I call a true American. On behalf of the president of the United States, I applaud the Ponders for their hard work and for everything they've done."

In 1975, Ponder opened North American Cabinet, then Republic Industries, in Marshall. Starting with 10 people, the company grew an average of 30 percent a year. Only four years after selling his company and seemingly retiring, Ponder opened Master Woodcraft Cabinetry in January 2008. The company has grown to more than $74 million in annual sales in 2014 and has already $39 million in 2015 sales as of May.

Ponder said he owes part of his success to some advice he was given years ago that set him on the road to running a fruitful business.

"I worked for a couple of big companies for a couple of years because I was given this advice; 'Gene if you want to be somebody in this business, go to work for two or three major cabinet companies, learn the best of each one of them and then go start your own,'" Ponder said.

Ponder said though his original business saw success, leading him to retire in 2004, he could not stay away.

"My wife, Patsy and I decided we'd start Master Woodcraft," Ponder said. "We started out building our first cabinet in 2008 and the company just shot off like a rocket."

Ponder said Master Woodcraft almost immediately saw more than its share of adversity.

"We didn't plan on 2010, 2011 and 2012," Ponder said referencing what he referred to as the worst (time for) construction in America in 50 years. "We got past that, we survived the rough economy and I'm telling you, things are great now. The company is growing in quality and we see a bright future."