Thriving on competition
On the basketball court at Roanoke College, Morris Cregger '64 earned a reputation as a fierce competitor. Today, this charter member of Roanoke College's Athletic Hall of Fame remains one of Roanoke's top 20 scorers of all time and still ranks second in scoring average per season.
That competitive spirit is the driving force behind Cregger's success in business. As founder and CEO of Cregger Company Inc., a wholesale distributor of plumbing, heating and cooling products, Cregger and his wife, Sheila, have built their firm into one of the country's top 25 companies in the plumbing distribution industry. Continually growing, the Cregger Company has added two new locations already this year, bringing its total in five states to 18 wholesale distribution centers, five Design on Tap retail bathroom and kitchen showrooms and the company's corporate headquarters in West Columbia, S.C. Even former Roanoke College President Norman D. Fintel and his wife, Jo, attended the April opening of a Design on Tap in Greenville, S.C. Cregger, closely tied to his alma mater, also is a member of Roanoke's Board of Trustees as well as president and CEO of Cregger Capital Investments, a multi-million dollar capital investment firm.
While the former athlete is remembered for his determination to win, he also is known for his generosity to employees and to charitable causes, particularly in higher education. Cregger, who lettered in basketball, soccer, track and tennis, has made significant contributions to Roanoke College, as well as to Sheila's alma mater, the University of South Carolina, and Harding University, where their son Matthew graduated.
"Having been so fortunate, we feel that giving back is the only proper thing to do ... We recognize how much we've been blessed," says Cregger, who attended Roanoke on a basketball scholarship. "We believe that education is the major contribution to the success and values by which our country was founded and will be with the continuation of the strongest economy in the world. The knowledge obtained from higher education is also the key to assuring that each individual has the chance to live in a country that offers the greatest opportunities through freedom of choice. Therefore, our gifting to education gives others the same opportunities granted to us as well as helps ensure the future of our children and grandchildren."
After graduating from Roanoke College, Cregger worked for the Noland Company-at the time the nation's largest plumbing distributor-until 1976, when he was recruited by Kline Supply Company to manage the company's plumbing store. It was there he met Sheila, an accountant who worked for Kline Iron and Steel Co., the parent company, and managed the books of the plumbing division.
The couple, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in October, started dating in June 1978-going on dates in Sheila's 1972 Dodge Challenger because Cregger didn't own a car at the time. Four months after their first date, in October 1978, Cregger purchased Kline's plumbing division and founded the Cregger Company with about $50,000 in loans-including $2,000 from Sheila (which, she teasingly points out, he has never paid back).
It was a rough financial start, and "we prayed a lot," recalls Cregger, who later served as president of the American Supply Association and spoke in Germany, Canada and 14 regional associations around the United States. The Creggers' good humor and affection for one another, detectable in their playful banter, also must have seen them through some challenging times. Now with a record number of 185 to 190 employees, they still enjoy sharing tales of those early years when the business was fledgling: "For the first year," Sheila divulges, "I continued to work for Kline's and worked for Morris on the side, because he couldn't afford to pay me."
Despite their financial success, the Creggers remain down-to-earth and are generous in sharing their wealth with their employees, whom they call "associates." They offer multiple opportunities for professional growth and financial gain for their associates, particularly through incentive programs that distribute 20 to 25 percent of the company's profits to their associates at all levels who achieve measurable benchmarks.
"We do share the success of the company with all of our people," Cregger says, "and we recognize that attracting good people has been the key to our being able to grow the company."
Not surprised is Josh Foster '04, a business administration major who is now a purchasing agent approaching five years working with the company's central distribution headquarters. "The company has definitely grown a lot since I've been here, but it always keeps this feel of family," he says. "They really are folksy, just down-to-earth people."
Foster adds that his friends who don't work there are always surprised to hear that "Mr. C. and Sheila always have an open door.... They're definitely wonderful people."
Their son, Matthew, joined the company in May 2008 and is heir apparent as its future leader. "Matthew has all the characteristics to assume leadership of our company," Morris says. "He has his mother's intelligence and analytical abilities. He is ethical and morally strong, communicates well with people, is humble and has the discipline and determination required to be successful. At times, he reminds me so much of a younger Morris Cregger that it's a little scary," he adds, chuckling. "His contributions and progress in the company have been beyond my and Sheila's expectations."
Morris also has three children from his first marriage -- two daughters, Katherine and Melinda, and another son, Michael, who is one of the company's top salesmen. Their dad recognizes that his own college experiences developed the foundation for his successful business ventures, and he and Sheila are giving back out of gratitude. At Roanoke College, they contributed significantly to the Donald Kerr Stadium, as well as the track and cross country and basketball programs. They also have provided a lead gift for a proposed recreation and athletic center now in the planning stages.
"The Creggers have been great to us and supportive of the whole College," says Page Moir, the men's basketball coach. "This is a day and time when everyone has got to scrutinize budgets and be careful what they spend. Their contributions have allowed us to continue to treat our athletes in a first-class manner."
Though the couple has provided non-designated gifts to Roanoke, University of South Carolina and Harding University, Cregger has a soft spot for sports. He believes the lessons learned on the playing field have contributed to his business savvy-and, Sheila points out, her husband often uses athletics analogies in his motivational speeches to the company's associates.
"He realizes without athletics, he might not be where he is today," she says.
Participating in sports teaches valuable lessons in teamwork and self-discipline, Cregger says, and he prefers hiring athletes whenever possible. In fact, the company's associates John Rutledge '04 and Foster, his fellow Maroon, are both former Roanoke College basketball players, who were recommended by Coach Moir. Both have become successful businessmen for the Cregger Company, and Moir believes that's because they have the benefit of learning from one of Roanoke's best athletes of all time.
"When you take somebody who's very competitive and they're put into a situation where they have to work with a variety of people to be successful-they have to communicate, have to sacrifice individual accomplishment for all-they learn a lot of traits that will make them successful in business," Moir says. "That's been proven in Morris."
Rutledge, who was a business administration major, also is nearing his fifth year with Cregger Company and says it has definitely paid off. He even passed up another job he had been offered right after graduation because he thought he would learn more from the Creggers. Now doing sales for the company in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Rutledge values the couple's insight.
"You know you can't have a good company without a good woman behind you," he says, praising Sheila and Morris Cregger's partnership. "And seriously, the generosity they've shown to Roanoke College they show in every aspect of their lives.... they just do a lot."