No one could have imagined the level of success that Mike Tucker would attain from his humble beginnings, not even himself. Born and raised in the rural town of Mechanicsville, Maryland, Mike dreamed of a different way of life and knew that it would take hard work to get there.
“I always thought I would have to work for my success,” Mike explains, “I was always competitive and knew that I wanted to make a certain amount of money and live a certain type of lifestyle. So I worked hard to get there.”
His father owned a neighborhood restaurant and bar and Mike remembers helping out many times during his formative years. It was while working with his parents that Mike learned the lessons that would eventually lead to his exceptional customer relations and people skills.
“My parents really taught me how to treat people. They had employees that were waitresses, cooks, cleaning people. Everyone had to come to work and be on time and do what they were supposed to do, but my parents treated each person with dignity and respect. I try to be that kind of person and leader. I think that’s important.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Mike, too, became a business owner. With an innate competitive spirit, natural sales ability and a drive to succeed, Mike’s path to a new life for himself was certain. Now the president and owner of George W. Allen Company, an office products supplier with over sixty years of service and experience, Mike can live out that dream every day.
“The path that God has taken me on has led to opportunities that I could have never imagined growing up in southern Maryland.”
One of the first opportunities on his path to success was attending Charlotte Hall Military Academy during his high school years. An all-boys military school located in the adjacent town of Charlotte Hall, it was there that Mike learned the value of education, discipline and leadership skills.
“Going to Charlotte Hall was a great opportunity for me and I learned a lot about leadership, hard work and responsibility. I received a great education. I thrived in that environment with the competition and the discipline. They were all things that suited me well.”
Though Charlotte Hall was a boarding school, because Mike lived locally, he could attend each day and return home in the evening. It was also at Charlotte Hall that Mike was first introduced to the world of wealth.
“I shared time in two very different cultures during my years at Charlotte Hall. The local town where I grew up was similar to the town of Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. At Charlotte Hall, many of the boys came from wealthy and more affluent families. Their fathers were politicians, business owners or judges. Hanging around with them emphasized the importance of education and the expectation that you would be something when you graduated. Being in that environment is where my drive to succeed really came from.
The oldest of five children, Mike was the first in his family to attend college. After graduating from Charlotte Hall, Mike was accepted at the University of Maryland where he majored in business administration.
Not unlike many young people, during his first years at college, Mike forgot the values and discipline he learned in military school and fell prey to the many other opportunities found on a college campus.
“When I went to University of Maryland, the ‘goose was loose’ and my immaturity kicked in. All of the discipline that I experienced in high school just disappeared. The thing that kept me somewhat grounded was that I wanted to play baseball, so I had to make sure that I stayed healthy and was able to show up for practice. But this was in 1968 to 1972 and we were surrounded by riots, hippies and drugs. Fortunately, I stayed out of the things that could hurt me, but I wasn’t committed to my school work.
Though he maintained a “C” average in order to continue to play on the university’s baseball team, Mike realized in the last semester of his senior year that he was twenty-three credits short of the requirements to graduate. His choices were either to not graduate and get drafted into the Vietnam War without a degree or work hard to finish the credit hours needed which would allow him to attend the Navy flight school. Mike decided to meet the challenge of completing his degree and finished out his last semester with his best grades ever.
Though he’d entertained ideas of playing for a professional baseball team or enlisting in the Navy, after graduation Mike instead joined the workforce, initially for his father but quickly realizing that he wanted something more. After obtaining a sales position with Carnation, handling product sales and delivery, he met his wife while making sales calls in Ocean City, Maryland.
“My wife has been great. She is a great sounding board for my life and always gives me good advice. She is one of the most influential people in my life. She is always very supportive and understanding. When I start to worry she will say, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ From the beginning she has been the reason that I am confident that I can be successful.”
During a family gathering, the father of one of his wife’s friends approached Mike about a position in office product sales at Faber-Castell. Mike took the position and while working for the company developed and enhanced his sales abilities.
“My boss at Faber-Castell was creative and motivated and he made selling fun. We became the national U.S. distributor of Uniball products and that’s when I started focusing on government contracts.”
Mike carved out his own niche in government sales and became like his own kingdom within the larger business.
“I remember saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to get rich selling lead and colored pencils. We have to start selling Uniballs and all the other high-use products to the government.’ So, that’s what I did and was able to take the company’s government sales revenue from $0 to $7 million and the entire company’s revenue from $16 million to $250 million during that time.”
Though he enjoyed his time at Faber-Castell, when the company was acquired by Office Depot, Mike lost his interest in working for the large conglomerate.
“I became the first government sales manager for Office Depot and negotiated their first GSA contract but I soon realized that I didn’t want to work for a large national chain. They had so many restrictions and really didn’t understand the government contract field which was my area of focus. So I started looking for another opportunity.”
Having now built up the government sales business in two separate companies, from non-existent to multi-millions in revenue, Mike decided that he wanted to run his own company. With the knowledge that the George W. Allen Company had been struggling to try to compete against the big giants like Office Depot and Staples, Mike felt that with his plan to focus on government contracts, he could turn the business around.
In 1995, Mike purchased half of the company and quickly started the process to obtain a GSA federal supply schedule so that they could sell office supplies on government contracts, but he quickly realized that the company’s financial position and reputation was far worse than he envisioned.
George W. Allen founded the company in 1948, but at the time Mike came on-board the business was being run by George’s daughter and her husband. The company was not only struggling against the large chain competitors, but had not turned a profit in over two years.
Mike brought with him his contacts from years in the business and he called upon them when he took on ownership in the business. He worked out an arrangement with his old company, Faber-Castell, to be their direct supplier for the government sales market, but, due to his company’s poor financial standing, Faber-Castell required that they obtain a line of credit.
“I had a great business plan that everyone thought would work but Faber-Castell was requiring us to come up with a $400,000 line of credit. I was able, eventually, to call in a favor (after 5 or 6 banks had shot me down) and I got the line of credit, got my GSA contract, and started rolling. Amazingly, we never hit the line of credit for about ten years.”
Those first few years at George W. Allen Company were hard on Mike, working to re-establish the company in the marketplace while not receiving a salary for several months. They also had one of their trucks stolen with $10,000 worth of merchandise inside. It was during this time that Mike’s partner passed away and his partner’s wife sold the remaining half of the business to him.
Mike enlisted the help of Tom Clark, a long-time employee with the company who had been working to try to keep it afloat before Mike purchased it, and brought in his friend, Bill Ratcliffe as the company’s CFO. Never giving up, Mike had faith that he could turn the company around.
“I’ve been blessed. When I look back at my career and life, many of the challenges I faced prepared me to be an owner at George Allen. Witnessing other people’s success in business (and often being a major contributor to that success) made me confident that I could succeed on my own.”
The company continued to flourish. A few years ago, when Mike realized that the business model was shifting within the government market, he began looking at a new business model to include product delivery services and commercial sales. He partnered with Tim Flynn who owned his own distribution company, Impact Office Products, to form Allen Impact Services, providing direct commercial sales and delivery of office supplies and products. Today the combined companies bring in over $60 million in revenue annually.
Mike also utilizes his company’s success to help nurture the next generation of leaders. As a partner company with the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School whose program allows underprivileged students, who would otherwise not have the opportunity, to attend the private high school while working one day a week at a partner company.
“Our partnership with the Don Bosco School is very rewarding. When kids come here to work for the first time they are understandably very shy and unsure of themselves. The next thing you know we hear they’ve received a scholarship to Georgetown or some other great college based on the opportunity that the school gave them and hopefully some of the work and interpersonal skills that they developed being out of the school and in a work environment.”
Mike is most proud of his family, being married to his loving wife for 36 years and raising their five children together. Unassuming about his achievements and attributing his successes to God, Mike truly reflects the faith that has guided him through.
“The path that God has taken me on has blessed me with things that I never could have imagined. I don’t dwell on my past successes or what I might be proud of from the past, I’m excited about what I’m doing today. I hope that I can keep that enthusiasm and work for another ten years and continue to be productive over that time.”
With his hard-working, can-do attitude, and a healthy competitive streak that keeps him at the top of his game, Mike Tucker knows what it means to achieve his goals. Never letting it go to his head, Mike attributes his success to a philosophy of hard-work, discipline and the opportunities with which he has been blessed. With a track record of success and a love of people and trying new things, we can be assured that, when it comes to Mike Tucker and the future of George W. Allen Company, that it’s not the end of the road… it’s just the beginning.