Beisser Lumber keeps leadership in the family.
When Kim Beisser’s father named him President of Beisser Lumber in 1973, Beisser Lumber had one location in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and 15 employees. This past November, Beisser’s son-in-law Dave Ling became the company’s third president, stepping into a role that oversees three locations and nearly 165 employees.
“I was just 23 when I took over. I had graduated from Minnesota State Mankato with a degree in Business Administration and wanted to implement new ideas. My dad named me President and said, ‘Go ahead!’” Beisser jokes.
Like his father, Beisser had a head for business and saw opportunities to grow in new ways. “My dad had been working for Payless Cashways in the early ’50s,” Beisser says. “But he really wanted to be his own boss. So he bought the lumber from a truck that had tipped over in a ditch outside Fort Dodge, got a truck to haul it out of there, rented an old feed mill, and went into business.”
That was 1953. Beisser’s mom, Marian, did the bookkeeping, and his dad, Fred, grew the business quickly. “He could sell snow at the North Pole,” says Beisser. “And Mom kept track of how much.”
By the time their son was 5, they had him sweeping the floors and picking up nails. Working for Beisser Lumber is the only job he’s ever had. Within five years of taking the reins, he’d expanded from Fort Dodge to Des Moines, settling in Ames so he could oversee both facilities and continue making deliveries as far as Iowa City.
“My dad continued to run the Fort Dodge location, and we had a good team there. We’ve always had good people,” Beisser says. “They’re part of the family.”
Ling sort of grew up in the family business, too. Beisser says, “I’ve known Dave since he was 16, when he started dating our daughter. We’ve always talked about the company, and he’s been on the Beisser Lumber Board of Directors for several years. He was already a part of the company, even though we hadn’t talked about him taking over until a couple of years ago.”
Ling, like Beisser, also a graduate of Minnesota State University Mankato, worked his way through a commercial banking career and completed his graduate work at the Graduate School of Banking at Colorado. Most recently he was in management for Bankers Trust as a Vice President. He oversaw the Business Banking and Government Guaranteed Lending practice for the bank. His wife, Sarah, is a physician, so neither of them was previously actively involved in the family business. “We never got the girls involved in the business,” Beisser says. “They had their own interests growing up and their own careers.”
Aside from what the family calls “table talk,” sharing about the business around the dinner table, the Beisser children and in-laws had not pursued more-active roles in the company. So it came as a surprise when the “table talk” during the family’s lake vacation in July of 2020 became a preliminary job proposal.
“It wasn’t even on my radar,” Ling says. “I had my own path, and we’d never even talked about the possibility of joining the company.”
The family discussed it throughout the vacation, and a few weeks later, Ling accepted the job.
“Sarah said yes almost immediately,” Ling says. “I had to take a little more time to make sure. It helped to recognize that I’m not here to ‘fix’ anything. This company isn’t broken. My role is to make sure we can keep doing what we do, which is helping our customers succeed.”
Another factor that helped in that decision was the vote of confidence he received from the management team at Beisser Lumber. “They actually approached me, not the other way around,” Beisser says. “A few months before I talked to Dave, the management team came to me. The team thought Dave was the right candidate to step in.”
Although Beisser owns over 80% of the company, several years ago he began offering ownership shares to key employees. The plan had been to gradually sell ownership to employees and family, with a leadership board guiding the company in the future.
“We realized we were growing faster than employees could buy in, and we needed a plan in case something happened to me. My wife, Sally, was concerned, too, about what would happen to the company if something happened,” Beisser says.
When the management team brought up the subject with Beisser, the team said Ling had its vote. Not only was he family and a Board member, his business expertise was just the right background for leading the company forward.
“My work with Bankers Trust was more on the finance and long-long-term planning side of things, where we helped companies plan and execute growth and transition strategies,” Ling says. “So I’m comfortable with that aspect of the business. The product-specific aspects I’m still learning. But we’ve got so much experience here that I can trust all these people who know their jobs. There’s time for me to learn the details.”
That attitude reflects the approach his father-in-law has always taken—recognize the skills in your people and trust them to do their jobs well. It’s also the approach the company has taken to expansion.
“We add good people, train them, and let them do their jobs,” Beisser explains. “When we’ve added facilities or products or services, it’s in response to our customers. We don’t take on new things just to add them. We add what best serves our customers.”
“The people here are family,” Ling says. “Kim has always run the business that way. It’s not just people’s jobs that are affected, but their lives, their kids’ lives, their Thanksgiving dinners, their Christmas presents. We’re responsible for that.”
Beisser says that understanding of people and business is what makes Ling the right man for the job. Beisser Lumber may be transitioning to new leadership, but it remains in good hands.