Focus on Leadership: Karndean’s Noah Fulton believes in the value of hard work – May 2023

Interview by Kemp Harr

Noah Fulton, vice president of business strategy for Karndean Designflooring, grew up in Tampa, Florida. When Fulton’s father moved the family to Pittsburgh in 1998 to pursue a career in injection molding, his mother, Carol, took a job with Karndean.

Fulton began working at Karndean while in high school and ascended the ladder through a good number of the company’s operations and departments-from warehouse to IT to accounting.

By example, Fulton’s parents, neither of whom graduated from college, taught him the value of hard work. In addition, Fulton’s father taught him woodworking, a hobby that Noah carries on today through furniture and cabinet building.

Fulton met his wife, Megan, in high school and the pair began dating in college-with Megan at Penn State and Noah at Pitt. The pair share a daughter, age nine, and two sons, ages six and 12.

Q: How did you end up focusing your career in the flooring business?
My journey began earlier than most: I’ve been in the flooring industry since the age of 15.

In 1998, our family moved to Pittsburgh from Tampa and that year my mother, Carol Fulton, took a job with Karndean. During high school summers, I spent most of my time working in the warehouse and building sample boards, and during the school year, I’d come home to a pile of sample boards that needed to be finished.

After graduating from high school, I started college at Murray State University in Kentucky, but I realized it wasn’t the right place for me, so I moved back home and returned to Karndean while attending the University of Pittsburgh to pursue a degree in accounting. During that time, I worked in various roles-the warehouse, purchasing, accounting, marketing. It was such a small organization that I was able to bounce around and learn a lot in the process. My mother remains with the company today as director of marketing operations.

Q: At one point, you left Karndean to pursue a career at Odyssey and then returned. Tell us about that.
After graduating from college, I had an opportunity to do business consulting, implementing ERP and CRM systems. I spent three years gaining a lot of experience learning how other businesses operated, as well as deep knowledge of databases and how analytics provide information to make informed decisions that drive success.

Peter Wood, who’s chairman of the board for Karndean, would probably tell you he decided to fire me so that I could spread my wings. Looking back, I think it worked. Those experiences enabled me to return to Karndean with a wealth of knowledge.

While at Odyssey, Karndean hired me to do some software project work, ultimately offering me a full-time role, and I’ve been back here ever since.

Q: How did you hone your skill set?
I’m a strong believer that you can gain more valuable experience in the real world than in a classroom. That said, my accounting education has been essential in allowing me to help Karndean become an industry leader for luxury vinyl flooring.

In many ways, accounting is the foundation for a company’s success. It’s allowed me to provide analytical reporting, database structure and profit management while working with the entire Karndean team on measuring success. Although accounting is often referred to as “reporting the news,” we focus on how to make the news.

Q: What is it you like about working for a family-owned business?
Working for Karndean is a privilege. Our owners, the Walker family, are fantastic people, and loyalty runs deep here.

One of the four pillars for the Karndean culture is “People Matter,” and I can proudly attest that we are all in on it. The same family values that were part of the company’s founding 50 years ago remain today, even as Karndean has gone from a small operation with just a few people to an organization with almost 200 U.S. employees and over 500 around the world. Some of my closest friends are the people I work with.

Q: What sets Karndean apart from the other suppliers in the resilient flooring category?
Karndean was started in 1973 by Mike Walker, who had a dream to build a business that focused on his pride for a simply beautiful floor. We still focus on that vision day in and day out, and that’s what sets us apart.

Being an LVT-only flooring manufacturer, we are able to focus our expertise and passion on providing exceptional products. 2023 marks 50 years since Mike Walker began pursuing his dream. I’m proud to be part of a business that has stood the test of time with the same values that were in place when the company was founded.

Q: How did you learn to be confident and put others at ease?
Confidence is not something that came naturally, especially growing up. And if I’m being honest, there are still situations where I find myself less confident than I should be.

I’m a big believer that even if you’re not 100% confident in every situation, when you’re surrounded by teammates and colleagues, confidence can be achieved.

I believe it’s important to understand that it’s okay to fail. Everyone fails-the key is learning from it. One of my favorite quotes is “We fall down so we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

Q: What is your vision for the future of the Karndean brand here in the U.S.?
Our vision is firmly rooted in our founding principle: innovation. That said, the innovation will always be centered on creating durable, beautifully designed flooring, just as it’s been since 1973.

We also are committed to being a partner customers can count on, in good times and not-so-good times. We want to make it as easy as possible for them to do their jobs and achieve success. As a family-owned company, those relationships and the trust we’ve earned are paramount.

Q: What is the best strategy for making sure your products have a higher perceived value than those of your competition?
We are confident about our position in the market. We are not going to be the lowest price point. What we are going to be is the leader for premium luxury vinyl flooring, with an unmatched focus on quality and design of the product and an unmatched commitment to supporting our customers.

Q: What is Karndean’s sustainability message?
The future is now for sustainability. From reimagining the supply chain to establishing science-based targets for greenhouse gas reduction, sustainability is now a fundamental element of our business strategy. It’s the right thing for the planet, it’s the right thing for people, and it’s the right thing for our business.

Q: Who is your mentor, and what did they teach you?
I have had many amazing individuals influence who I am today, in business and my personal life. In both cases, my mentor was my dad. He was a selfless man who worked hard his entire life and instilled in me that nothing is free in this world. He never sought praise. He taught me that respect is earned, that success is earned and that every now and again, being in the right place at the right time is key. Though my mom brought me into Karndean and the flooring industry, it was my dad who pushed me to get those sample boards done after coming home from school. He also was the one who talked to a local restaurant manager about giving me a job as soon as I was able to drive. There was never a job around the house where we weren’t being put to work as a team. As he would say, everyone has a job to do.

Q: How do you balance work, family and the other priorities in your life?
It starts with working for an organization that puts people first. I find balance by making sure my priorities are in line. My priorities are simple: my faith and my family are always first.

The other side of the scale is a commitment to getting the job done for a company that means so much to me. If that requires late phone calls and after-hours computer time, then that’s what I’m willing to do.

Q: What advice do you give your children in hopes that they will be successful and happy?
I often tell them the only way to succeed is by showing up and putting in the work. Whether it’s sports or playing an instrument, you have to start somewhere. And whatever you do, find joy in it. Life is short, and we should live each day with joy and an understanding that our joy impacts those around us. Have a good attitude and be happy.

Q: What do you do for fun when you aren’t focused on work?
My life revolves around my family. I have been married to my best friend for 15 years, and we have three children-ages 12, 9 and 6.

I don’t get as much time at this season of my life for some of my passions, like fishing and golfing, but I do get to spend plenty of time coaching their baseball teams and going to their recitals. When I do find free time, I am usually doing home-improvement projects or working in my woodshop.

Copyright 2023 Floor Focus 

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