LEADING QUESTIONS: LDI chairman Lacy still charging hard

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Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

Andre Lacy, 72, has been one of Indianapolis’ most visible business leaders of the last four decades, serving on the boards of several corporations, filling key positions in high-profile civic organizations and city and state bodies, and piloting the family firm, distribution-and-logistics giant LDI Ltd.

LDI was co-founded as U.S. Corrugated-Fibre Box Co. in 1912 by Lacy’s grandfather, Howard Lacy, and then guided by Lacy’s father, also named Howard, beginning in 1952. Lacy knew from an early age that he wanted to head in the same direction.

“I always cared to be in business; my first job at U.S. Corrugated was when I was 9 years old as a office boy,” Lacy said. “I like the competition. I like building. I like causing something to be better than when I started.”

He was thrust into the front office after his father’s untimely death in 1959. “My mother and I, neither one of us having any broad experience and me being totally wet behind the ears, just dug in and started working on it,” he said.

After graduating from Denison University in 1961 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Lacy took on increasing responsibility with the company as an analyst, sales rep, plant manager and regional manager. Originally focused on manufacturing corrugated boxes, LDI began diversifying its holdings by buying and building wholesale distribution companies. In 1972, its name changed to Lacy Diversified Industries (later shortened to LDI Ltd.).

The transition was complete in 1984 with the sale of U.S. Corrugated. “I love the corrugated box industry, but it is an industry that has a lower appetite for making money than I do,” Lacy said.

Today, LDI is a closely held holding company of wholesale distribution and logistics business units, which are operated relatively autonomously. It’s the 12th largest Indiana-based private company, according to IBJ research, with revenue of $906 million in 2010.

The two firms currently under its umbrella are Tucker Rocky Distributing and OIA Global Logistics. Earlier this year, LDI sold its 16-year holding FinishMaster Inc., a national distributor of automotive paints and accessories, to Canada-based Uni-Select Inc. for $172 million.

Lacy vacated the CEO's office in early 2007 but remains chairman of LDI and involved with business strategy, acquisitions, and preaching the principles of LDI business culture to employees. A pilot and avid adventure traveler, he still has time to pursue his lengthy bucket list of destinations. The list included the Arctic Circle, which Lacy and two companions reached during a 9,300-mile cross-country motorcycle trip this summer.

In the video at top, Lacy details the trip, as well as his transition out of the CEO’s chair and the importance of a family member remaining active in the firm once he retires as chairman. Two of his three sons, J.A. and Peter, were under the LDI umbrella as executives of FinishMaster, and opted to stay in their positions with FinishMaster after the sale this year. (J.A. Lacy, president and CEO of FinishMaster, remains an LDI board member and shareholder, but says he has no present plans to return to LDI. "We've never felt any obligation or pressure to carry on a family legacy," he said.)

“There’s always a yen for [keeping the business in the family], but our company is more interested in attracting outstanding talent that can end up satisfying our strategy and goals," Lacy said. "Your last name is not that important. It’s what you do. … We’ve created an institution, so it’s not about Andre Lacy. It’s not last-name Lacy. It’s an institution that is more important than any one individual.”

Over several decades, Lacy has made a point of taking leadership roles in the community. For example, he served on the board of Indianapolis Public Schools for four years in the 1980s, and currently is the chairman of the Indiana State Fair Commission. With both bodies featured prominently in the news in recent months, Lacy comments in the video below about the deadly stage collapse at the fair in August, and the state’s decision to take control of several underperforming public schools, including four in IPS. He also shares bits of management wisdom learned over a life spent in business.

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