May 28, 2007

My Important People in the Glass Industry

By Paul Bieber

Memorial Day’s original purpose, as spelled out by Congress, was to honor people, both military and civilian, who died in combat. Over the last twenty years the holiday grew to remember all people who have passed on. This year there is a greater emphasis on the war dead, as we are, again, at war.

I started thinking about some people who have helped me in my glass career, people for whom I am grateful that our paths crossed. Most are still living, and it’s nice to think about them while they are alive!

The man who took a chance on me was Phil Saitta, the Regional Sales Manager for CR Laurence. He taught me everything, from the glass industry to how to sell. His most important teachings were to always be prepared for a sales call, follow-up on all promises and quotations and no matter what may have happened in business, no one can take away your pride, as long as you hold yourself as a professional.

I talked with Phil a couple of months ago. He and his wife Lillian are now fully retired and living in Florida near grandchildren.

Bernie Harris was the President of CRL. I didn’t have daily contact with Mr. Harris, but his presence was everywhere within CRL. Mr. Harris, (he was always called Mr. Harris by everyone) cultivated an image of professionalism 24 hours a day. He was the first one at the plant, and usually the last to leave. He always wore a blue blazer, charcoal dress slacks, and occasionally a sweater vest in the colder areas. One day, in a private moment, I asked him how he prepared for his business day. He told me that he would study the area he was going into, and he kept a file called a travel file. If something passed his desk, it either needed to be acted upon immediately, or put into the travel file for his next visit to that area. When he came into our offices in New Jersey, he would have a hundred questions for us. He was prepared. Mr Harris never looked at a clock. He worked. Period. Running a national company from the West Coast required a long day. Mr. Harris would arrive at his desk by 5:30 AM, western time, so he could work with the Eastern customers and vendors, and stayed at his desk until 6:00 PM, western time. There was no thought of take care of the problem tomorrow. Mr. Harris’ mantra was to solve the customer situation now, so all involved could get a good night’s sleep.

What a role model—here was a gentleman who had built a local mirror clip manufacturer into the leading supply house to the glass industry. He continued to work hard, because, that was his job. It made it easy for the middle managers to work hard, knowing that the owner and senior managers worked just as hard.

One other man influenced me from CRL, Mr. Don Friese. He developed new products daily, he saw the future…where CRL had to go. He knew selling razor blades wasn’t as beneficial as selling sealants. Don then lead us into selling custom hardware for doors. Don Friese taught me that there were only two types of companies in our world. Those that supported CRL, as a customer or vendor, and those that didn’t. He had no time for fence-sitters or people who would play one vendor against another. This sounds extreme, but it is what profit making business are about. When I left CRL to join Floral Glass in Hauppauge, New York, the solid lessons I learned from Mr. Harris and Don Friese stayed with me.

Chuck Kaplanek, the owner of Floral Glass, is the next extraordinary person to enter my life. Chuck was thrown into the leadership role at Floral, when his Dad, Charlie Kaplanek had medical setbacks. Chuck didn’t have the luxury of learning at his Father’s side. He had just graduated college and a very short time later, he was in charge. Chuck, like my other heroes, didn’t look at a clock. He would work 16 hours a day for many years. After his children were born, Chuck brought in professional management to help him run the business, so he could be both, a father and a business leader.

Chuck has the most valuable talent in the glass business–he could see two years ahead. Under him, Floral was the first to manufacture architectural insulating glass on a vertical line, we were the first on the East Coast with a 96″ tempering oven; we were the first to use silicone as the sealant of an IG unit, we had the largest laminated autoclave in the country. Chuck’s vision was was expanded with his frequent European trips looking at equipment. Chuck speaks 7 languages fluently and when negotiating with a German equipment manufacturer, or a Czech glass manufacturer, Chuck always worked the deal to Floral’s benefit.

Chuck brought me in to set up his management team, and never second-guessed us. He would ask a lot of questions, but always allowed us to follow our path. Sure, there were mistakes, but Chuck was always there encouraging us to rectify and improve where we had slipped.

After about 10 years with Floral something changed. I became a member of Chuck’s family. Nothing formal happened, but we became brothers running a family business. Before working with Chuck, I was a professional business man in the glass industry. After working with Chuck for 22 years, we had a bond that will never be broken.

There are hundreds of great people in our glass industry; these heroes are the ones that have impacted my life.

Do you have a hero? Drop a note on the USGlass News Forum and share a wonderful person with us.