February 1, 2010

An Interview with Chuck

By Paul Bieber

Barbara Walters has called three times. Each time he said “No”. He didn’t even take Geraldo’s calls. The Today Show was turned down twice. Chuck Kaplanek, the owner and President of The Floral Glass Group of companies had preferred his privacy. He also felt a strong obligation to Oldcastle Glass to not interfere in their operations of the companies he sold to them in 2004.

Now, I am a very cunning glass blogger. I called up Chuck, pretending to be his friend, after all, we worked together for over twenty years. I said, “Let’s get together for a weekend in Florida at your place, reminisce about the old days, and have some fun.

He fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Sure, we had a great time in sunny Florida, where it was seventy-five degrees, and my wife at home was walking Mollie the Dog in minus-five weather. We ate out, and cruised down to the Keys. It was all in the guise of getting this interview with ‘The Floral Glass Man.’

Paul: Do you miss the days of running a major company?

Chuck: There are times that I do and times that I don’t. When I see many of today’s exceptional difficulties, I’m happy I don’t have those responsibilities any more.

Paul: Which difficulties are those?

Chuck: The unprecedented financial and economic downturn.

Paul: Do you ever see yourself going back to the glass industry?

Chuck: It would take a very unique circumstance and special people to tweak my interest. Ask me again in a year.

Paul: Your sons were all involved in the business in one way or the other. What are your three boys doing now?

Chuck: Each of my sons have a uniquely different personality and each are following his special goals—none of which are in the glass industry. Cory is in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, working on solar power projects. Chris is now a fully-licensed EMT and working full-time as an ambulance driver. He is also in school to become a paramedic. He loves the excitement and the fact he is helping people. Carey is finishing his degree in finance at Baruch College in New York City.

Paul: The industry has changed a lot in the last eighteen months. What changes do you see still coming?

Chuck: Prior to five years ago, at which time I left he industry, I had already sensed the rapid changes of not only the glass industry, but also the entire social fabric of our nation. As early as I thought I understood the upcoming changes, what has taken place in the last five years, and especially the last eighteen months was even beyond my vision. The ability to change almost instantly based on not long-term, or mid-term, or even short-term conditions, but the ability to change on an almost daily basis is mandatory. The industry must change in the short and perhaps mid-term future due to lack of demand. Those who can shrink efficiently and still survive will emerge as leaders later.

Paul: You owned and ran the most successful glass fab business in the Northeast–Any words of wisdom for the trade?

Chuck: Hail Mary, full of grace…, No, wait, let’s get serious. Stay focused on remaining within your means. Stay focused on maintaining solid customer and supplier relationships based on service and honesty. Don’t ‘over-panic’ when time get temporarily tough or different.

Paul: What do you think about the Chinese stealing the contract on the World Trade Center Liberty Tower?

Chuck: My heart goes out to PPG for all of the well-minded and quality efforts on their part prior to the commencement of the project. Our country needs to create the ‘Third Great Industrial Revolution’ based on hi-tech capabilities and produce these products on our home soil. I think this should be the energy based aspects of our glass products, generating solar power and improving heat and cold transfer from the environment.

Paul: You left five years ago, at the right time. For what other parts of our industry is it the right time for change?

Chuck: The right time for change is everyday—the right time for mergers is when you are certain it is beneficial for your company to no longer go it alone. It is time when you can gain from the possibility of pooling skills, knowledge and resources.

Paul: Thanks, Chuck. Now, why don’t we have a drink?