KIT Hammond's retirement dinner turned out to be an industry affair as friends and family gathered in Savannah, Georgia, December 10 along with Great Dane customers, suppliers, association executives, media representatives, community leaders, and company executives. With over 40 family members alone attending, it was a huge crowd that sat down to dinner at the Grove Point plantation, which is more than a company retreat. Kit told the crowd of well-wishers that he often came to play at Grove Point Plantation as a boy, and it was the home of his grandparents.
The “roast” was headed by Chris Hammond, Kit's son. As master of ceremonies, he told of some of the many “Kit'isms” that peppered his father's speech and unique leadership style during his 43 years at Great Dane.
“This man is unique,” said Phill Pines, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Great Dane Limited Partnership. “I have never known a more positive or enthusiastic person.
“This was evident especially during the dark business days of 2001. Each Monday afternoon I would convene a conference call with upper management to review the previous week's order input, the backlog at the plants, and the lead times for materials. We would then make decisions as to whether the plant production would have to be decreased and people layed off. All of us had concern for the effect on the people, but none took it as hard as Kit or were as emotionally involved as Kit. I know of several orders he obtained that I am sure were motivated by his desire to not lay off people.
“The last two years Kit agreed to remain active and to mentor the new, younger generation of Great Dane management. I want to thank him for doing this. As you all know, the results have been outstanding. Although I cannot honestly attribute all of this to Kit, his positive influence on the younger people certainly had an effect.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Bill Crown, president and CEO of Great Dane Limited Partnership, who admitted that “Kit does have a particular knack for making life fun and interesting.
“When Great Dane and Pines merged nine years ago, we had the challenge of combining two very strong cultures. Mergers are like marriages. The honeymoon eventually ends, and there are tough decisions to be made and difficult times to get through. Many companies simply don't survive. At Great Dane we were lucky. Kit was there at every phase of the integration. He was always open-minded, supportive, constructive, and never had anything but the company's best interest at heart. He positively loves Great Dane.
“Kit helped Great Dane Limited Partnership weather the perfect storm years in our business in 2001 and 2002. The whole company needed his optimism, his drive, and his good humor during that time. The company didn't sit still or retrench. No, we borrowed some of Kit's belief in our industry and our abilities, and we invested in Great Dane's future. We worked harder. We called on our customers and provided the legendary Great Dane service. And in that optimism we found the courage to buy factories — not just one, but several — because leaders such as Kit helped the entire organization believe in our future. By taking these actions, by not giving up hope, Great Dane emerged from those difficult years as the biggest and strongest trailer company in the world.
“No one at Great Dane understands better how to be customer-focused. Kit has built the strongest sales team in the trailer industry through his 24/7 approach. He calls on customers and cherishes the relationships he has built over four decades. Great Dane cannot afford to lose this legacy. Fortunately, Kit will continue to work with the company as a member of our board, and, of course, Kit's son Chris will be with us if we ever need to be reminded of our number one priority.”
Although this toast-and-roast dinner was not to be a gift-giving occasion, some Great Dane employees and suppliers pooled their resources and came up with a gift that Kit had been searching for during the past several years. At the end of the evening's festivities, they rolled in a completely rebuilt Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk, factory super-charged hard-top convertible, the same type of car that his parents, Chris and Liz Hammond, had given him when he graduated from college in 1963.