When Devon C. Anders ’88 was finishing his bachelor’s degree at Eastern Mennonite University and heading into a career as a certified public account with a well-established firm, he probably would have looked bemused, or at least quizzical, if anyone had suggested that one day he would be named Business Person of the Year by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, as he was in January 2014.
Running businesses that employ 100-240 people is not the usual career path for accountants, most of whom tend not be to entrepreneurial risk-takers.
But soft-spoken, low-key Anders fits no stereotypes, except for one – true to his Mennonite upbringing and church affiliation, he doesn’t flaunt his success. All things considered, he lives simply. Married for 25 years to Teresa (class of ’85), he, Teresa and their three children have lived in the same decent-sized, but not mansion-sized, house near Mt. Clinton since 2001. He drives a Toyota pickup with 85,000 miles on it.
The transition from engaging in audits to running a business happened toward the end of Anders’ seventh year as an accountant at PBGH, one of the three companies that became PBMares, the largest CPA firm in Virginia. A pair of his clients – Jerry Morris and Wayne Ruck, owners of Packaging Services Inc. – asked if he would join their management team as their in-house accountant. Soon after Anders joined the team in 1993, Packaging Services started a warehousing division. This has grown to be the core of several intersecting businesses that Anders now oversees, minus the original Packaging Services, which was sold in 2000.
Today Anders is the president of InterChange Group Inc., which provides storage, transport, logistics and land-development services from its base on the southern edge of Harrisonburg, right beside I-81, to companies operating throughout the East Coast. InterChange has about 100 employees. In addition, Anders is on the executive management team of Classic Distribution (doing business as River Run Cabinetry), which has about 50 employees, and of A & J Excavating, which has about 90 on its payroll.
Given his background as a CPA, Anders remained the de facto controller of InterChange, as he gradually hired managers in operations, sales, and transportation to meet operational needs. Finally the day came – it was Nov. 1, 2005, to be exact – when he brought in Kevin Longenecker ’91 to manage the company’s finances. (Longenecker had been EMU’s controller and director of finance for the previous seven years.)
Anders was raised in Souderton, Pa., the son of a banker, whose other son has developmental disabilities. Familiar with his brother’s needs for familial and community support, Anders has found ways of partnering with Friendship Industries, a Harrisonburg non-profit employing persons with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Several years ago, after about five years on Friendship’s board, Anders arranged for InterChange to work collaboratively with Friendship Industries, using Friendship personnel to do food repackaging for InterChange clients.
“I believe if you’re successful, you need to help those around you,” says Anders. “I don’t wake up in the morning thinking of my next deal or bigger bonuses. I wake up thinking about ways to sustain our workforce – I wake up aware of many mouths to feed. ‘How do we make this work?’ That’s what’s on my mind.”
His parents and his Mennonite heritage inculcated a strong work ethic in him – “perhaps too strong,” he says with a smile. Anders appreciates having the same underlying ethical values as his business partners, along with an interest in keeping InterChange privately held – all of which permits Anders and his management team to take the longer view in building their business, absent the pressure to deliver quarterly performance on the stock market.
One of their ventures is developing small office parks around Harrisonburg, such as the one that houses Harrisonburg Pediatrics on Route 33 in McGaheysville.
Anders adopted Harrisonburg as his hometown in the late 1980s after heading south from Pennsylvania to enroll in what was then Eastern Mennonite College, where he says Del Snyder and Ron Stoltzfus gave him a solid foundation in accounting. Anders satisfied his cross-cultural requirement by spending nine weeks in China with the first group that EMU sent to that country. “I was excited about it – it changed my world perspective,” he says.
It also did something that he could not have foreseen then: it enabled him to feel comfortable about venturing back to China as a businessman in 2009, and to return every year since then, as he considers deals involving the importation of cabinetry and other products. His most recent trip to Asia, in November 2013, lasted for 16 days, with stops in China, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam.
His biggest challenge? “Anticipating the market.”
Anders was not the only alumnus in the spotlight at the annual award ceremony held by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 9. The Farm Family Stewardship Award went to Riverhill Farms of Port Republic, owned by the Rodes family. Glenn Rodes, featured in a short film on the farm, is married to Sheri Beth (Petersheim) Rodes, a 1988 EMU graduate who majored in early education. Their family raises 270,000 turkeys annually, operates a 150-cow dairy, and cultivates 600 acres, using conservation practices designed to protect the adjoining Shenandoah River.