By Andrea Lannom - email
Climbing the corporate ladder from an accountant at Little General Stores to the owner of the company, Greg Darby has experienced triumph through the company's expansion and has worked to help a community heal following a deadly explosion.
Darby has lived in West Virginia all his life, growing up in Beaver, attending school at Shady Spring High School and finally, graduating from West Virginia University.
A fisherman, hunter and golfer, Darby and his wife, Darlene, call Beckley home. He has two sons, Cody and Dustin, and two grandchildren.
First Job in the Real World
Although Darby has progressed through the business world, he started out helping his friend build houses while attending school at WVU.
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in accounting, Darby got a call from Little General confirming his first job in his field. At that time, there were only eight Little General stores.
"I was going to college when I was 18, and I didn't know what I wanted to be," Darby said. "At a dinner with my now father-in-law, he asked ‘what are you going to be?' He said, ‘be an accountant,' and I did."
Since that first day, Darby has worked at Little General 32 years.
"I got the call, and I interviewed. I didn't know what to think. It was my first job in the real world where I wore a jacket and tie. I didn't know what to think," Darby said.
Darby said his years as an accountant have been very beneficial to his current role as an owner.
"Being an accountant has helped me understand the financial world," he said.
Over the span of 19 years, Darby worked his way up through the ranks as a store supervisor, marketing director, vice president of operations and later, president.
"I left the office because I didn't like the office atmosphere," he said. "I wanted in the field, so I went out in the field as a store supervisor."
Expanding and Giving Back
One of the most memorable moments for Darby happened in 1999 when he partnered with Cory Beasley to purchase the company. Darby said they built quite a few new stores along with several restaurant franchises.
Now, the company has more than 100 locations.
"Over the years, I've learned how to become successful in the business world," he said. "I've developed a great company and developed great people to help us grow.
"You need good relationships with the employees, customers, all people we deal with in our business," he added.
A good relationship with the community also is important, which is why Darby maintains heavy involvement in local events.
One of the hats Darby wears is chairman of Remember the Miners, a new group put together to raise awareness for coal miners through scholarships and events.
"When it was first started, it was for the people at Upper Big Branch (mine). Now, that I've been involved in it, it has expanded to all miners — anyone involved in the mining industry."
Little General also donates heavily to the Make a Wish Foundation, Toys for Tots, and it even has a scholarship program where it donates 15 $1,000 scholarships each year to high school students in communities with Little
General stores. Darby also said the stores stay active in colleges and local high schools.
"We have given $190,000 in scholarships over the last few years," Darby said.
"We like to be a part of the community. Beckley is easier because our corporate headquarters is here, but we try to be involved through all communities, especially through the schools."
Besides community involvement, Darby said his favorite part about being an owner is seeing his employees move up the ranks of the company.
"One of the things I like the best about being the owner is watching my employees grow, progress and promote growth through the business," he said. "There are a lot of long-term employees who have done that."
Yet, being an owner isn't easy, Darby stressed.
"I think that people think being an owner is an easy job. They think you've made it and don't have to work anymore. That's not the case," Darby said. "It's a busy business. It's 24/7, 365 days a year."
As an owner, Darby also has to deal with increasing prices at the pump, poorer fuel margins, floods, damaging storms and new competition.
Yet, one of the roughest days occurred in 2007, when an explosion at the Little General Store in Ghent killed four people and injured six others.
"It was a tough day. We went out there, and it was completely gone. It was scary. We didn't know what happened or who died. It was the most difficult thing," Darby said.
Darby said he knew many of the people injured and killed in the explosion.
"We visited them in hospitals," he said. "I knew Fred Burroughs. I went to high school with him. I reached out to the families and put together a fund. We raised $250,000 for them. And we still communicate with them. We want to build a memorial for them in Ghent."
Darby said it was crucial to not hide after the explosion and to work with people who had been injured.
"The strategy we took was this: Don't hide. Don't put yourself behind an attorney to talk. We went out to see what happened because we didn't know what happened. … We worked with people who had been injured and were part of the healing process. … We tried to be a part of the whole thing."
Darby said the importance of open communication transcends boundaries and applies to every situation. Darby said this skill is important for every businessperson to possess.
"Communication skills are important. You have to communicate with your vendors, bankers and employees," he said. "The biggest thing is your hard work and understanding of your business. You have to learn what your business is."
And part of this learning goes beyond simple job descriptions, Darby said.
"When I was out there and I first started, I learned everything about the business," he said. "That definitely helped me and it would help anyone."