Abney Boxley, III

Abney Boxley III was born February 21, 1958, in Roanoke, Virginia. Ab III attended Crystal Spring Elementary.  His 7th grade year he was a student at the brand-new James Madison Junior High which opened in January 1971. His high school years were at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. As far back as Ab can remember he spent his youth on Little League teams.  He enjoyed camping and recalls his first leadership roles as the president of the 4th grade class, another time in 5th grade he was a safety patrol at the intersection of Willow Oak and Edgehill.   This important role also included his pal John Parrott who was a bus patrol.  Ab recalls his first experience with elections in Junior High when he was drafted by one formidable young lady, Harrison Hagan, who was running for student council and her strategy was to have a campaign manager in each grade, Ab was the manager for 7th grade. When asked if his candidate won, he noted “with a landslide vote.” 

Ab’s love for sports led to his being on a state championship football team that was a part of the rec leagues and coached by Bill Andrews and Stan Comer.  Another rec football coach who influenced Ab was Bob Linkous of Linkous Supply Company.  He was always impressed with the patience of these men and how they promoted team spirit and a strong work ethic.  This led to Ab being on the high school varsity Football team and the Track and Field team, throwing the shot put and discus. 

Sports solidified Ab’s leadership abilities and he was appointed a monitor of a dorm on the Episcopal School campus.  Ab went on to Washington & Lee University (“the second-best school in Lexington” according to his VMI alum father) graduating in 1980 with a major in Economics.  One of his summer jobs at Boxley was driving a truck from the quarry to a primary site.  September of 1981 he was 23 years old and worked with his dad at the family business based in Greenville/Skippers and Emporia Virginia.  For 15 months as a Trainee and Project Coordinator, Ab experienced every level of the business working as night shift driver, welder, and management trainee.  He worked on the rate structure for mileage and eliminated single car shipments to promote unit car (=80 cars of same product) shipments.  His co-workers fondly called him a STUMP – ‘stupid trainee under management protection.’

Ab was restless and entered the MBA program at Colgate Darden School of Business University of Virginia where he completed his grad work in 1983. Ab had job interviews around the country during his last year of grad school, but there was one that was most memorable and led to his position today.   The best salesman from Boxley Company, Bobby Watts, made an appointment with Ab and shared with him that the company is changing and with its anticipated growth new leadership would be needed and, of course, who would know what the best of the company had been than Ab III.

He was hired as the Manager of New Product Development.  Ab is quick to add that his father never implied that he was expected to work for the family business.  However, as he looks back on the time, he spent with his father on hunting trips to South Carolina and fishing trips where the conversations often led to the family business.   Ab’s observation is “family business – you do to your kids not for your kids”.  As Manager of New Product Development, he promoted their riprap for securing shorelines.  He was over sales in Martinsville and Superintendent of a quarry in Lynchburg.  These strides were made in five years’ time.  His father’s friendly advice was “if you are any good you will probably keep your job, but’s not a guarantee.” 

The unexpected death of Abney Jr. at the age of 56 in 1988 led Abney III to examine his options for keeping the company viable.  In sync with Ab III was his father’s brother, Frank, who called together a business meeting at a local McDonalds which included the two Boxley’s and Jim White, a retired Boxley VP.  It was decided over a ham biscuit and coffee that Ab III would be the new president and the other two men would serve as business advisors, Mr. White agreed to come out of retirement and work with young Ab for one year.  Uncle Frank was running his own successful business SW Construction, but he made three visits weekly to Ab’s office to provide any support that Ab would need.   “Ab picked up the company and ran with it in a time of crisis in 1988 and has never looked back, “says Frank.

Drawing upon his graduate work Ab decided to create a board of directors that would include two outside members.  Spencer Frantz, CEO of Graham White, and Bill Sandy Senior Sales Executive for Caterpillar accepted. They all poured over monthly expense reports and investments each time they met.   Scheduled within weeks of Ab Jr’s funeral was a customer party, and staff wanted to cancel to respect their former boss.   Ab III insisted on going ahead with the party plans to assure all customers “we have a job to do and we are here to stay.”  Ab felt strongly that because his father knew of the celebration that he would want to have it held.  Ab III became the president of Boxley Company at the age of 30 and is the fourth generation at the helm.

In his first year – 1988 as President/CEO of W.W. Boxley Company Ab acquired two Virginia businesses:  a quarry in Piney River and in Stuarts Draft.  Ab has continued to oversee acquisitions and these days mergers are its key focus. That year, the Blue Ridge plant participated in furnishing material for the Roanoke Regional Airport expansion, a $25.2 million project, equating to 150,000 tons being shipped – Boxley’s largest single job to date.   By 1999 Ab is elected Chairman and CEO of Boxley Company and he is adding quarries that can provide downstream business-like asphalt and paving, this product is 95% stone, plus concrete and that composition is 80% stone and 20% sand, limestone.

Ab has led the company to create a marketing initiative and he was responsible for creating a new brochure for customers. There is a new emphasis on using computer technology to forecast and manage sales, expenses, and production.  Beginning in 1991, Boxley Company’s core beliefs were amended to include “be responsible stewards of our environment.”  Today there is the added concern of the impact business must ensure our environment and its creatures are here for many generations to come.   For instance, Mr. Puckett at Boxley oversees the “greener production” and the mission statement avers “Boxley is in business because of the community buy- in”.  Time is spent to ensure that the company is sound and adding to the economic development of the community.

In 2002 the corporate/formal name of the company is Boxley Materials Company and has been for 20 years.  The trade name was Boxley Quarries. Ab is concerned about Boxley being a good neighbor and image. His own observation is that the “company trucks on the outside should tell you what the company looks like on the inside.” This is nonnegotiable – his business is about cleanliness right down to preventing dust from flying over the byways located near his quarries.

While the business continues to expand and support the surrounding communities Ab’s personal life is grounded by a large and loving family.

Ab has actively contributed his time and talents to over 30 organizations in his efforts to better our community, his industry, and this region.  He currently serves on the Boards for Virginia Aggregates Legislative Committee, Young President’s Organization (YPO), RGC Resources, Inc. Valley Bank/Legislative and Loan Committees, Roanoke Valley Development Foundation, Carilion Health Systems /Investment Committee, Art Museum of SW Virginia, Center in the Square, and The Business Council/New VA Region. In addition to coaching three sports for the Greater Southwest Athletics in Roanoke City.

In terms of businesspeople who have set the pace for Ab, he first mentions his father, next is his Uncle Frank Boxley who tirelessly gave the time and counsel to young Ab while running his own thriving company.  The third man who exudes leadership in business is George Logan of Salem. George now serves on the faculty for the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia.  George also paved the way in serving as the chair of Valley Bank prior to Ab taking that position in 2000??? The last mentor that Ab mentioned is a mutual friend Dr. John Colley who Ab describes as an “ethical, clear thinker”.  Dr. Colley, over the past four years, has received honors of distinction from the UVA/ Darden board of visitors and accolades from his undergraduate university for his multiple contributions and discoveries that have enhanced Industrial and Systems Engineering.   Currently Dr. Colley resides on the hallowed “Lawn” at UVA because of his servant leadership style. He embraces the Jeffersonian way of gathering students on the “lawn” to learn. 

Ab states his management style is getting across to every employee their value to the entire operation.  Staff meetings are opened with a pre-assigned employee ready to quote the company mission and what it means to them personally.   The next person to speak is someone who can publicly declare the fine attributes of another co-worker who exemplifies the brand/mission.   For Boxley to continue to prosper, each employee must understand and appreciate the skills of the line man, driller, flag man, and front office.   A testament to noticing the talent and taking the business from the bottom up are the long-term employees:  Bill Hamblin, and two hires from 1988 in addition to Vada Sarsfield who has worked for two generations of Boxley’s now 40 years at the company and has the distinction of being an assistant to Ab III.

Ab was, in fact, a Junior Achievement classroom volunteer in 1988 at his alma mater, James Madison Middle School. He taught the program, Project Business, and used a Michael Jordan basketball analogy for his lesson on supply and demand.  The best advice that Ab shares with our young people: “the golden rule is still important in doing your work.  Everyone’s first name is important. Do what you say you are going to do, and back it up! Work with people you respect, you want to be around, and that you have fun.  If you articulate what you want, you can go far. Show up every day and do your job as best as possible.

Abney Boxley, III was inducted into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame in 2014.

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