Eddie Woodin '69

 

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Eddie Woodin '69
Eddin Woodin '69, at center, with fellow volunteers in Scarborough, Maine.
Eddie Woodin ’69 knew it was time to quit his job as vice president of national sales for a Pittsburgh-based store fixtures company when, during a business trip, he woke up in a hotel room in a city he couldn’t name. He racked his brain, guessing incorrectly a few times before realizing where he was. “I literally had the wrong city twice,” Woodin said.

So Woodin, who grew up in a blue-collar family in Concord, Mass., resigned from the high-stress job and moved back to New England. In 1993 he launched his own company, following his own instincts. He felt it was something he needed to do or, more specifically, something God had been telling him to do, Woodin said. “God was telling me, ‘Let’s go!’ So I did,” he said.

The company, Portland, Maine-based Woodin & Company Store Fixtures, may not be a household name, but if you’ve been in a college bookstore or Barnes & Noble you’ve probably seen the company’s work. Six employees in Woodin’s office design displays and bookshelves that are then built by a network of more than 200 manufacturers.

In retrospect, launching his own venture was the right move, but Woodin says that wasn’t so apparent in the beginning. He started the company with cash and five credit cards. His first account was a company in Chile. Later a contact at Barnes & Noble opened a door for the new company, though Woodin still had doubters. “But I was believing and God was believing,” he said.

That first year Woodin posted $1 million in sales.

The relationship with Barnes & Noble has since exploded, pushing Woodin & Co.’s sales to $7.5 million last year and an anticipated $9 million this year. The company currently supplies fixtures to 600 college bookstores across the country, with 100 more in line for this year, he says.

With a successful company, Woodin, who lives in Scarborough, Maine, could sit back, spend his hard-earned money, and enjoy life. But, while he does live comfortably, Woodin doesn’t sit on his profits.  He has helped build churches in Rwanda and the Congo. He donates to Maine Audubon and the Boy Scouts of America. He funded a Christian rock concert in Biddeford. Last year, he gave $7,000 to help a family flee East Africa for the United States. The evidence of his philanthropy is on a photograph-covered wall at the entrance to his South Portland office. “This is my victory wall,” he said on a recent afternoon, beaming as he pointed to one photo and then another. “These are a lot of those stories.”

Over the past 15 years, Woodin estimates he’s donated more than $1 million to charity. In 2005 he gave away the entire net profit of his company, he says, sitting on a couch in the break room of his office. It wasn’t exactly intentional, Woodin said with a shrug and a laugh, noting that his philanthropy is born from his belief in God. “Faith without deeds is no faith,” he said, paraphrasing the Bible’s Book of James. “To this day, that’s my mantra.”

Woodin said he was “born again” in 1988 and describes himself as a Christian charismatic. But his legacy of generosity has roots to his time at Colby, where he was a star baseball and football player. When he graduated he set a plan for himself. Each month he would volunteer his time at an organization, write five charitable checks, and call on five friends in need. He started writing $10 checks. Now he writes $10,000 checks. “I built a plan,” he said, “and that was the foundation. … It started small, but the concept grew to where it is today.”

He began life with nothing, Woodin said, so giving away his money doesn’t faze him. “I started at zero,” he said. “What if I go back to zero? What have I lost? Nothing.”

Whit Richardson