Dale and Angie Payne were ideally suited to one another, not only as husband and wife, but as business partners and friends.
He was a creative and outgoing environmental engineer (PE). She was a steady and supportive comptroller. Together with $25,000 each to invest, they founded A AAmerican Containers in 1999. Working side-by-side, they grew the business into a respected provider of containers for secure, on-site storage.
The early years were lean and the family survived on peanut butter and jelly and tacos while the couple poured the company’s profits back into the business. Then, in 2004 when four hurricanes ravaged the Tampa Bay region, their container business boomed. That year, A AAmerican doubled in size. By 2006, they had made it!
Angie recalls Dale saying, “We did it! As far as I can see, we’ve accomplished what we started out to do.” Not being one to settle, he used his talents as an engineer to guide the company’s expansion from container rental and sales, to modifications and accessories that serve a wide variety of industries and customer needs. Under his leadership, A AAmerican was at the forefront of “Mom and Pop” container businesses.
Dale’s impact didn’t stop there. Serving as chair of the National Portable Storage Association, he brought an attitude of abundance and encouraged members to collaborate on solving problems that affected the industry. If one member was having a problem, it was likely all members were having that same problem. Dale’s leadership transformed the industry association and brought value to everyone.
As a husband and wife team, Dale and Angie had to learn to balance the demands of their business and their young family. At work, Dale was the driving force, and Angie managed the books. At home, Dale was responsible for breakfast and taking their son Jordan and daughter Mackayla to school while Angie took charge of the afternoon shift. They came back together to tuck the kids into bed each night. It was a crazy life, but they loved it.
Looking toward the future, yet wary of the poor economic climate, they had plans to expand. They began saving their money to invest in additional property that would allow the business to grow and take advantage of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the resulting growth in traffic at the Port of Tampa. All of this changed, suddenly, on a warm Monday evening in late September, 2009.Although he resembled a geeky engineer, Dale was actually an active outdoorsman, skydiver, scuba diver, and martial arts practitioner who enjoyed competition. As such, Dale had a regularly scheduled Monday night karate “roll with the boys.” On his way to the gym that night, he and Angie talked on the phone about the details for the upcoming NPSA conference, the kids’ day at school and what time she could expect him to be home that evening.
The Lord gives and He takes away
Fifteen minutes later, Angie received a call from the karate studio. “Dale is having a seizure,” the caller said. “Dale doesn’t have seizures!” Angie frantically replied. He was rushed to the hospital but it was too late. Ten days after his 45th birthday, Dale had a heart attack that took his life. As Angie met the ER team she pleaded that he be kept on life support so his organs could be donated. His legacy had just begun.
In shock, Angie stumbled through the first week without Dale by her side. The company ran itself while Angie attended to her children and burying her husband. But after a week, she was needed back at work to make decisions and sign checks.
“The hardest part, besides surviving his death, was taking Dale’s place as the leader of our company. I had to prove to the employees I could do the job.” Angie said. “You see for me, my husband was bigger than life. Dale was so intelligent, confident, and humble. I jokingly would call myself his cheerleader and was quite content to let him be in the spotlight while I cheered him on. Deep down, I truly am an accountant and I’m most content being in the background. I didn’t know how I could even begin to fill those shoes.”
Whether he knew it or not, Dale had prepared for his passing and for Angie to take over leading the company.
“He was preparing me…”
“The day to day work wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Dale had trained all the employees, so they were well skilled and knew their jobs. Also our desks touched, so I heard everything he did and it seemed we were always discussing business.
"It’s funny to look back on it now…he was preparing me to step into his shoes and sit in his seat.”"Angie Payne
Three weeks after his death, at her father’s encouragement (“They need to know you are still in business,” he said.) Angie attended the NPSA conference with her children by her side. Presiding over that conference was supposed to be Dale’s last responsibility as chairman of the board of the association.
When she returned from the conference, Angie went into Dale’s routine. With help from her eleven year old son, Jordan, who made breakfast, Angie packed their lunch and then took them to school. She hired a nanny to fill in for her jobs at home. Every night, she made sure she was home in time to tuck the kids in bed.
At the office, Angie poured herself into the business, trying to figure out what Dale did at work for 70 hours a week. To replace the technical talent Dale brought to the company, she called one of his good friends, another PE, who came and agreed to work with Angie in the business for a year and help her adapt to her new role of leading the company.
Wise Christian Counsel
When he left, Angie took over. She figured out how to do Dale’s job. She took on the bid and project management work in addition to her role as accountant. Having worked three feet away from Dale for 10 years, she was able to figure it out. She also joined the C12 Group—a CEO roundtable of Christian business leaders—which provided her with a sounding board and the support she needed.
“At the time I met the C12 chair at a grief sharing group at church, I was still pretty mad at God and not really on speaking terms with Him,” Angie said. “But he invited me to one of the C12 meetings anyway. I knew instantly that was what I needed. I had lost my sounding board and the knowledge base I had with my husband.”
C12 has helped her tremendously and kept her on track. Angie said, “We are all on a journey in our walk with Christ. My C12 group has helped me shift my life both spiritually and in business.”
The best counsel Angie received, however, was from Dale himself. While searching for some documents one day, Angie discovered Dale’s hand-written notes that were filled with guiding principles that keep her grounded to this day.
Treasures from Dale
“Dale didn’t know he was going to die, and yet he left me all these wonderful notes. I just love reading them, especially when I’m at my breaking point. Through his notes I feel his strength and wisdom. They help keep me going. I thank God for these treasures.”
Things at home, however, did not go as smoothly. She went through three nannies. Although she had cameras installed so she could supervise them and be “there” for her kids, it wasn’t the same as being there.
“I didn’t like how my kids were turning out,” Angie said. “You can’t put someone else in as a substitute mom. They lost their dad. They didn’t need to lose their mom too.”
After two years of working both Dale’s job and her job, she made changes at the office so she could leave at 3:00 PM and return to being a mom to her kids. “It took about six months for the company and the kids to figure out how to deal with that change. I cut back the vision for the company. It is okay for us to be a small company. I’m back on track to where I need to be. My priority is with my children. My priority is also at A AAmerican Container. I have employees, and they have families. They have to have a job.”
Honoring God in Living Day to Day
Angie knows that planning is necessary, but also knows plans can change at a moment’s notice. She’s willing to be flexible and never say “never.” For now, she is keeping her focus on her priorities, keeping her life in balance by setting boundaries and honoring God in living day to day.
“You have to believe in God. When it becomes too much, you just say ‘Here God, this is yours today.’ You have two choices in life. You can live in the past, or you can look to the future and believe it will be good. If you believe enough and put your trust in God, you can ask Him ‘Will you please carry me today?’”
Three years after Dale’s passing, Angie attributes her ability to manage it all to perseverance. “You have more inside of you than you ever believed. I never thought I would be here. If you asked me, I wouldn’t have told you I could do it. But I did, and I do, one day at a time. I guess as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, ‘With God all things are possible.’”