Marvin Cos.’ president and CEO opens a window on his family’s venerable Minnesota firm
WARROAD, Minn.—With more than 5,000 employees in 12 factories across the United States—about 2,100 of whom are located in Minnesota—The Marvin Cos. are one of the largest made-to-order window and door manufacturers in the world.
In October, the family-owned firm named Paul Marvin as president and CEO. He is a member of the fourth generation of the Marvin family to work in the business. In this Q&A, he answers questions about his background, his family's legacy and Marvin's century-long history in its headquarters town of Warroad, Minn.
Question: What were some formative moments from your childhood and young adulthood that helped prepare you to become Marvin Cos.' CEO?
Answer: Like my fellow fourth-generation family members working at The Marvin Cos., an early formative moment was beginning to work at the company from a young age. Many of us worked throughout Marvin in our teens and through college.
My first job was working in the casement window department on the swing shift; this experience was critical to my understanding of the business.
Another highlight was watching the second and third generations of family leaders build and guide the companies. I had the honor of seeing my grandfather run the business when I was a child, and to see him—and later my father, aunt, and uncles—deliver a speech at the company's annual meeting was an iconic moment for me.
These meetings are also where we unveil the year's profit sharing totals, and it taught me the value of sharing the fruits of your labor with those who make it happen.
Finally, the entire fourth generation of the Marvin family grew up in Warroad, Minn. Living in a small town was also incredibly formative and helped to prepare all of us for our careers at Marvin.
Because we were down the road from the company's headquarters, the company values were infused in us all from a young age.
Q: You have some terrific role models to look up to from the first three generations of Marvin leaders. How about from outside of the family? Who are some of your other business heroes, and what do you admire about them?
A: Our family has always admired other family businesses. We enjoy watching, meeting with and learning from others who are also continuing a family legacy.
For me, I found John Mackey's book, "Conscious Capitalism," to be transformational. Mackey details his personal epiphany that business can exist for good—and exist for things beyond a profit.
The Marvin Cos. has always operated this way. Our purpose to enrich the spaces and places where we live and work includes serving the communities in which we do business. Mackey's writing provides unique insight on the opportunity every business has to serve.
Q: In 2016, your Aunt Susan (Susan Marvin, former Marvin Cos. president and now board chair) said this about the company's long-standing decision to stay in Warroad, Minn.: "The location forced us to be innovative, and some of these innovations became competitive strengths." Tell us about that and about the other reasons for the company's commitment.
A: Our headquarters in Warroad are remote. And as such, we don't have some of the luxuries that larger metropolitan areas might have. So, that has forced us to have a "can do" attitude and a creative, entrepreneurial spirit.
Consequently, we are independent and self-sustaining.
While our location has provided competitive strengths, maintaining our headquarters in Warroad is also a core part of our company's purpose. That's providing good quality jobs with outstanding benefits, but it's also contributing to the vitality of the community in a purposeful and meaningful way.
Quite simply, it goes to why we exist — our commitment to our purpose. Q: Here's an interesting item from a Minneapolis Star Tribune story about you: "After college, at age 23, he founded a school bus company in Minneapolis that started with one bus and ended with 20 buses and 20 employees. He sold the bus business in 2006 and returned to Marvin Windows," where you'd worked during high school and college.
Q: What was that experience like, and what did you learn?
A: I learned many lessons from this experience, but the most significant takeaway was entrepreneurialism—that small start-up was entrepreneurialism defined. That spirit translates clearly to my role as president and CEO now, as well as with the entire Marvin family working in the business today.
We are focused on staying creative, staying current and also recognizing the need to be really agile and flexible.
Owning a business also taught me about making mistakes and how to recover from them, which has proven to be critical knowledge throughout my career.
I also learned what it means to be an employer. Up to that point, that idea was merely theoretical in my college coursework. I quickly learned that life is more complex than the classroom, and that people are depending on their employer for their livelihood.
It is a tremendous honor, privilege and responsibility. It helped me learn how to treat people, which translates back to The Marvin Cos. and our family—how we treat people and manage our business.
Q: When business leaders gather in Chambers of Commerce around our region, the talk quickly turns to the labor shortage. Are The Marvin Cos. feeling that pinch, and if so, how are the companies responding?
A: Our customers are probably feeling the effects of the tight labor market more than we are at the manufacturing level. The builders, installers and contractors whom we partner with continue to share these concerns with us. In turn, we are focused on providing high-quality, value-added solutions to help ease that burden.
For example, we've greatly expanded our interior finish options with factory-applied interior paints, stains and finishes. We're also providing more factory mulling solutions than ever, as well as things like beautiful and thoughtfully integrated window shades. (Editor's note: Mulling is the act of attaching two or more window units together.)
These are all examples of things that we can do in our factories that our contractors and installers—and ultimately, homeowners—won't need to worry about.
With a look to the long-term, we're also actively involved in partnerships with both community educators and industry leaders, such as the GenerationNext program by "This Old House" to support education and resources for the next generation of workers.
We believe that exposing students to opportunities in the construction trades today will bolster the industry's future employees.
Q: Are you still holding to the goal of 10 percent annual growth that you mentioned when you took over as CEO? If so, tell us about some of the methods by which you hope to achieve that goal.
A: Yes, absolutely. First, our core businesses need to continue to grow. We will continue to provide the marketplace with new innovative products, services and solutions.
In addition, we also have to grow in new ways. That might include starting new businesses from scratch. It might also mean acquiring new businesses. Our growth goal requires a new approach to how we innovate, and we are actively investing in that.
With this combination of efforts, we are on a growth trajectory, and consequently, it's a very exciting time at The Marvin Cos.
Q: The Marvin Cos. now has joined the 3 percent of U.S. companies that survived to see a fourth generation of family members assume a leadership role. What is it about the Marvin family and its dynamics that helped that happen?
A: Any family business that survives to the fourth generation of family leadership knows it doesn't happen by accident. It requires commitment; it's purposeful.
Our family has always believed our business needs both ownership succession and leadership succession. You have to prepare both, and you can never start too early. That's what we do, and we carve out dedicated time to accomplish those tasks because it can be easy to lose sight of succession planning in the midst of running the business every day.
Succession planning and leadership planning have been absolutely essential to our business.