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Jimmy Rane is now the richest Alabamian, but it’s what he’s done with his wealth that matters

Jimmy Rane stars as "Yella Fella" in Great Souther Wood's Yellawood commercials (Photo: Screenshot)
Jimmy Rane stars as “Yella Fella” in Great Souther Wood’s Yellawood commercials (Photo: Screenshot)

Forbes Magazine announced this week that Alabama has a new richest resident: Jimmy Rane.

Here’s how Forbes describes his ascent:

The founder of Abbeville-based building materials company Great Southern Wood Preserving, Rane is better known nown as Yella Fella, the cowboy alter-ego he plays in TV commercials.

He got into the lumber business by accident. In 1970, as a law student, Rane stepped in to mediate a family dispute over his father-in-law’s estate and ended up taking control of a small fence post manufacturer. He expanded the company on the side while he ran a private practice and spent five years as a county judge. Eventually Rane shifted his focus to Great Southern Wood, where he remains chairman and CEO.

Today the company hauls in more than $700 million of revenue a year, and Rane is personally worth an estimated $610 million.

Rane’s hometown of Abbeville, the oldest remaining colonial settlement in East Alabama, is home to just under 2,700 residents in the southeast corner of the state. Its population today is roughly the same as it was in the 1950s. It has one high school, one middle school and one elementary school, and is served by a single radio station — WESZ, “Oldies 98.7.”

Many of the downtown storefronts and a local theatre marquee have been restored to the way they looked at a time when Elvis was emerging as the face of rock-n-roll and the jury was still out on whether capitalism or communism would prevail as the globe’s dominant economic system.

Archie Theatre, Abbeville, Ala.
Archie Theatre, Abbeville, Ala.

It’s the kind of town that isn’t so much stuck in the past as it is nostalgic — sentimental about the values that its residents have passed down to each other for generations.

And at the center of it all is Mr. Rane, the town’s most famous resident.

Rane founded Great Southern Wood Preserving in Abbeville 46 years ago when he started peddling treated lumber out of the back of a red, 1961 pickup truck. Today the company is the largest of its kind — not just in Alabama, not even just in the United States, but in the entire world.

“We’re in 27 U.S. states, every Caribbean country, every central American country, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uraguay, China and Taiwan,” Rane had told Yellowhammer at his company’s headquarters. “We’re competing on a world stage.”

The company employs roughly 1,000 people around the globe, but through it all he has remained fiercely loyal to his rural Alabama hometown.

Rather than expanding Great Southern Wood’s Abbeville headquarters as the company grew, Rane instead chose to purchase and renovate buildings in other parts of town, like the old Standard Oil gas station, and turn them into usable office space. By doing that the company’s exponential growth has had an even greater impact on the town.

His passion for historical preservation has led him to renovate properties all over Abbeville. There’s even a 1950s-style soda shop called Huggin’ Molly’s that Rane opened a decade ago.

Huggin' Molly's, Abbeville, Ala.
Huggin’ Molly’s, Abbeville, Ala.

It has been suggested in the past that Great Southern Wood’s business would actually benefit from moving out of Abbeville, that a relocation to a larger hub of commerce would further strengthen the company’s robust bottom line.

“Why Abbeville?” I asked. “What makes this place so special?”

“Why not Abbeville?” Rane replied without hesitation. “I think that’s the better question. Abbeville is home. I’ve lived here all my life. My mother’s family has been here a long time. My friends and family are here. Abbeville is composed of really fine, educated people who want an opportunity… so why not? I want to do all I can to help make Alabama as great as it can be.”

In addition to leading the efforts to preserve and sustain his hometown and improve his home state, Rane has also proven his commitment to giving the next generation of leaders the opportunity to succeed.

The Jimmy Rane Foundation was founded in 2000 and since then has given out millions of dollars in college scholarships to over 300 deserving students.

One of those students is Brandon Gosselin, who suffered a traumatic brain injury shortly after graduating high school that left him with, in his words, “the mental capacity of a third grader.”

Gosselin was determined to fight back and achieve his dream of becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. He caught the eye of the Jimmy Rane Foundation, which is now helping make it happen.

“Since receiving the Jimmy Rane Foundation scholarship, my world has expanded,” Gosselin said. “Shattered hopes and dreams are mine again… I’m on track to be the first person in my family to graduate with a four-year college degree.

“What I found is that I’m able to go beyond what my doctors thought I could do, what my family and friends ever dreamed I would do, all because of what we read in Philippians 4:13,” he concluded. “‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ The glory goes to God, and the heartfelt thanks goes to the Jimmy Rane Foundation.”

In short, Rane’s personal wealth is in the national headlines this week, but it is what he’s done with his wealth, resources and connection that really matters.