The two Shaw Industries executives who will lead the company into an era without Robert “Bob” Shaw as CEO and Julian Saul as president have been groomed in the “Shaw Way” for a combined 61 years.

Vance Bell will succeed Shaw as the second CEO in the company’s history, while Randy Merritt is following Saul as president. Despite the changes, officials with Shaw Industries — even the man who now owns the company, billionaire investor Warren Buffett — are confident the world’s largest floorcovering company will continue to churn at a $5 billion a year level.

“Vance and Randy have the same operating philosophy, they’ve been trained by them for 30 years, and they are immersed in Shaw the same way Bob was,” Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, told The Daily Citizen. “No one will know the difference.”

Shaw will retire on Sept. 1. Saul retired from his president’s post last Friday.

The 55-year-old Bell began his career with Shaw in 1975, moving up to his current position as executive vice president of operations in 1999.

Merritt, 52, was part of Shaw’s first management training class and was most recently executive vice president of corporate sales and marketing.

The familiarity with the inner workings of the company played a large part in Bell and Merritt climbing to the top of Shaw’s corporate ladder, said Frank O’Neill, publisher of Floor Focus magazine.

“He certainly has some strong replacements there,” O’Neill said of Shaw. “It’s a surprise that Bob Shaw is retiring, but it’s not a surprise that Vance and Randy are in the top positions. I think that they’ve been groomed for those jobs for many years now.”

Bell follows Shaw’s example of community involvement, serving as former chairman of the United Way and currently as immediate past chairman of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce. Bell served as chamber board chairman in 2004 and 2005. Chamber president George Woodward said he was impressed by Bell’s pragmatic approach to business.

“Vance is very organized and he is results oriented,” Woodward said. “When you work with Vance, you have an agenda and you move forward on that agenda because you have certain benchmarks to make sure you’re accomplishing what you need to.”

Woodward said those qualities will translate well as Bell leads Shaw Industries.

“I think that Vance will probably continue in the tradition Mr. Shaw and Mr. Saul have left,” Woodward said. “If you look at Shaw Industries, the two things you can always say is it’s a company that’s well managed and is also very community minded and put a lot of resources into the community.”

But could a new CEO and president bring changes to the company?

Marilyn Helms, a business professor at Dalton State College, speculated the new top management team could signal a transition for the company even though Bell and Merritt represent “good, strong leadership stepping in.” She noted Merritt has a sales and marketing background, and said Shaw Industries may increase efforts to brand its floorcovering products.

“Both have been with the company forever and have forgotten more than some people know,” Helms said. “These guys are great and articulate, but I wonder if this will change the strategy a bit. When there is a change at the helm, they bring in some different experiences and a little bit of a different strategy. It’s part of the business cycle, it’s part of life. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

The duo will face several challenges, including escalating fuel and raw materials costs, Helms said.

“The good thing about it is Bob Shaw is right around the corner,” Helms said. “He can be a sounding board because he’s lived through all of this.”

Norris Little, most recently vice chairman emeritus of Shaw and a 25-year employee there, said he is confident in Bell’s and Merritt’s abilities.

“I think Vance and Randy have been part of the team that has been there for many years that has been essentially running the company,” said Little, who retired in 2002. “And I think the team will continue to run the company well. I think the company is in great hands. I think that team will be very successful.”

Bell, a graduate of Georgia Tech, worked at Shaw in research and development and later as an account representative. In 1983 he was named vice president of marketing.

Merritt, 52, graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1976. He spent his first four years in the company’s research and development group. Most of his career has been in various management positions in sales and marketing.

Bell said he is “honored” to be selected as the company’s next CEO.

“One of Bob Shaw’s lasting legacies is the quality of our people, a tremendous strength of our entire organization,” Bell said. “This is our greatest asset and I’m confident it will continue to drive our future success.”

Merritt was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

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