A Conversation with Bill Ellerbee, Lincoln Industries
Lincoln Industries is one of the largest finishing companies in North America, and Bill Ellerbee was named its president in 2016 after serving as the company’s vice president of operations for the last eight years. Prior to Lincoln, Ellerbee was vice president of global operations with Federal Signal Corp. in Illinois, and spent 16 years with Maytag Appliances in Iowa.
PF: How has the transition been from leading operations and five departments to now leading the entire company?
BE: It has gone very smoothly. The organization in total has been extremely supportive. I have really enjoyed the increased interactions with our customers, and the opportunity to work with our team on our key growth initiatives.
PF: Culture is a big part of Lincoln’s success. How does a president continue to drive that culture?
BE: Staying engaged in our culture is a fundamental part of each of our leader’s roles at Lincoln Industries. My door is still open to everyone. Spending time on the shop floor and staying connected to our people remains a top priority, and always will.
PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given, either personally or professionally, and who gave it to you?
BE: When I was a kid, my grandfather said, “Strive to learn something new every day.” When you focus on learning, you become very inquisitive and your listening skills develop. In my experience, it is difficult to learn and understand if you are not listening. We have so many talented people in our organization; if you give them your ear, they will certainly teach you.
PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
BE: I was a regional sales representative for Maytag Company. The big take away was how important strong personal relationships are in business. As a 23-year-old in my first professional job—with no experience calling on small independent retailers—you figure out quickly that you are going to need some help. My first real mentors in business were my customers. Those early personal relationships proved to be the key to our mutual success.
PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?
BE: Be consistent no matter who you are working with, up and down the organizational chart. For most of us, this requires getting very comfortable just being yourself. At times that might mean being a bit vulnerable. Above all, be humble and authentic.
PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?
BE: My wife, Diane, and I have relocated six times over the past 27 years. All those moves taught us to find something to appreciate about wherever you are. As I think back to all the places we have called home, there are special memories we share about each. For me, each place we have lived has had a positive influence on our family and I can’t say I have a favorite. However, San Diego had the best climate.
PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?
BE: I force myself to do the things I am least comfortable doing. Stay connected to the best and brightest individuals you have access to and engage in discussions. And never stop learning.
PF: How do you motivate people?
BE: First, I believe you have to know them and establish a relationship other than just being the boss. Sharing true confidence in your belief that they can accomplish the task or goal at hand. Provide the support and resources needed to ensure success.
PF: Three greatest passions?
BE: My faith, my marriage and my kids.
PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
BE: Take care of today and tomorrow will take care of itself.
Get to Know Bill
Family: Wife Diane, children Katie 25, Matt 23, Clare 17, Andrew 15, John Paul 9 and Mary Ann 7
Favorite hobby: Fishing
Favorite movie: True Grit, the original John Wayne version
Favorite book: 1776 by David McCullough
What’s playing in your car CD/radio: 70s music
Originally published in the July 2017 issue.
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