Volume 33, Number 10, October 1998

 

Soaring Above the Rest

Frank Dlubak Named to 1998 Glass and Metal Hall of Fame

"Through ignorance, I do things that people say can’t be done—I just go ahead and do them anyway," says Frank Dlubak. While Dlubak says he forges ahead with ideas and concepts, not always knowing what he needs to know to accomplish a given task, he somehow makes things work and has created some of the most beautiful and enduring glass projects in the industry. That, in a nutshell, is why Dlubak got to be where he is today and is, in large measure, why he is being inducted into the 1998 Glass and Metal Hall of Fame.

Dlubak, owner of Dlubak Corporation headquartered in Blairsville, PA, is known as an inventor, genius, innovator and non-conformist. His friends and relatives will tell you that there is something in his makeup that blinds him to ordinary obstacles, impossibilities, the laws of gravity or just about anything else that gets in his way when he wants to do something unusual with glass.

Ave Maria, his wife of 30 years, says Frank can do what he does "because he is just so positive. He just says ‘this is what I’m going to do,’ and then he does it." Together, the two have raised three daughters and a son: Alyssa, Amy, Alana and Damon. The eldest of their daughters, Alyssa, works for the company.

In 1947, Frank’s father, Charles F. Dlubak, founded Dlubak Studios, a stained glass company that designed and fabricated windows and other decorative glass works. Frank began work for the company around the age of 12, helping out during summer vacations and assisting his dad with special projects.

In the earlydays, stained glass was primarily used in churches and its creators were artists, not window specialists. As Dlubak Studios grew and as Frank matured, he saw a need to marry technology and art to create a business that could integrate both. By doing so, he could offer customers the complete package, from design to project completion. The company began designing and building window frames in 1974 and in 1975, its aluminum bending service was added. The stained glass portion of the company was phased out in 1982.

"This company is Frank Dlubak," says Dave Bazzano, who is chief operating officer of Dlubak Corp. He has known and worked with Dlubak for some 34 years. "After he began making aluminum window frames, the company really took off and he decided to go to other stained glass companies all over the world, telling them ‘I can make stained glass window frames for your company, too.’"

"He’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever run across," says Bazzano. "When you do something good, he gives you a pat on the back and says, ‘good job.’ And, when things aren’t going so great, all he wants to do is give you a hand and help you make things better."

Dlubak’s daughter, Alyssa, who serves as the company’s marketing director, agrees. "He lets me do what I want and he respects my decisions." After graduating from college, she went to work for her father, thinking she might stay there for a short while before finding her "real" job. That was four years ago and she has found she really enjoys marketing. She explains that the Dlubak Corporation today operates in three divisions. Its main flat glass and bending operations are contained at the Blairsville headquarters. Metal bending operates from a plant in Freeport, PA, while research and development and marketing are located at a facility in Kittanning, PA.

Dlubak’s assistant in the company’s marketing and sales division is Marilyn Schoener, who has worked with him for approximately nine years and says he is simply "a wonderful person." Unlike many chairpersons of their own companies, "he goes right out on the floor and works hands-on with the people in the plant," Schoener reports. "He always tells people when they are doing a good job."

Edwin Berkowitz, chairman of J.E. Berkowitz, L.P., a glass fabricating business headquartered in Westville, NJ, has known Dlubak as a friend and business associate for more than ten years. "He is extremely innovative, very creative and talented," says Berkowitz.

"I’ve known Frank as a friend and business associate for about 15 years," says Gene Dunmire, chairman and CEO of Merchants National Bank in Kittanning, PA. "I know him as an innovator, entrepreneur, risk-taker, forward-thinker and an artist."

"He is the authority on glass," says another long-time friend, Father Gregory Ofiesh, the pastor of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Francisco, CA. Fr. Gregory has worked with the Dlubak family since the days when Frank’s father was at the helm of the business. "Frank has the ability to use curved glass that brings out its esoteric character. It’s like looking at a mirror image of him," says Fr. Gregory. "When you see his work, you feel his spirit—when I look at his glasswork, I feel Frank."

In 1965, Dlubak Studios designed, created and installed 24 large stained glass windows, as well as 20 four-foot by two-foot windows in Fr. Gregory’s church. At age 21, Frank went to San Francisco to handle the project. "It was his first job on his own," Fr. Gregory recalls. "He stayed in our house, brought in his own crew—they lived in the church—and we were all like family. Frank still works like that. Every job is family.

"That was 34 years ago, and in all that time, only one little piece of the window has ever broken," says Fr. Gregory. "Eight years ago, we took them all down and moved the wall out ten feet when we remodeled the church, and put them back in. It was easy—Frank came back and taught us how to do it, and it worked perfectly."

Impacting the Industry

Many in the industry credit Dlubak with creating today’s market for bent glass, as well as the terminology now commonplace in the industry. Jim Ranalli, president of Southwest Aluminum and Glass Co., Inc. in Cuddy, PA, remembers a project that his company and Dlubak worked on together in 1980.

"We entered into a contract to provide security windows for the Henry Clay Frick Museum in Pittsburgh, PA . . . Frank literally had no experience with bent glass at that time," says Ranalli. He remembers an unsuccessful meeting that was intended to expedite the order for the curved glass. After the meeting, "Frank told my father that he was going to start bending glass himself. At that point, Dlubak began the transformation of the curved glass industry into what it is today."

"Our company is known internationally for its bent glass," says Alyssa Dlubak. "There was bent glass in the industry before we got into it, but my father developed and refined the equipment that is used today."

Bazzano says, "Before Frank entered the market, the bent glass industry was a small, undisciplined, unorganized and uncooperative group of people." Bazzano credits Dlubak with bringing all the players together and organizing them so they could work together and understand each other’s problems and concerns. "He had his company put on seminars to show how people can use bent glass. Before that, people were afraid to use it; through education, he erased all that. He let architects and glaziers know that it didn’t have to be the way it was. The bent glass market has increased tenfold because of Frank."

Using the automotive industry as an example, Bazzano says Dlubak did for the glass industry what the Japanese did for the automotive industry in the United States. "He brought up the standards and introduced quality improvement into this industry," says Bazzano.

"Because of my father, we are known in the industry as the company that will try anything," says Alyssa. "He really believes in himself and the company; he may even sell something he hasn’t made yet."

Alyssa says that sometimes panics her, when the two of them may be talking to a client and Frank promises to make something for the customer that has never been done before. But while Alyssa may be thinking about the finished product, her father’s mind is already designing the piece of equipment that will be necessary to make that new product.

"He is a very gifted guy in machine design and rebuilding equipment," Berkowitz agrees.

Ave Dlubak says, "It’s a special gift he has. He can just look at something—a coffee pot or a toaster that isn’t working—and he just seems to know right away how to fix it." She notes also that some of that creativity is driven by value. He may look at a piece of machinery and conclude that "it’s too expensive to buy, but I can make it myself," and he does. "It may look like something Gyro Gearloose [the eccentric cartoon character in the old Donald Duck comic books] repaired, but it will always work," says Ave. "I can’t think of anything he can’t do—but of course he doesn’t always do it," she quips.

Schoener cites a different example of one of Dlubak’s most valuable contributions to the industry. "He teaches people to look at the world through a funnel," she says. "Most people look through the wide end and they see the world through the narrow end. Frank says to look through the narrow end, so what you see is the larger, broader perspective," she describes. "He is always five steps ahead of everybody else. He hears things and sees things that other people just don’t see."

Seeing that broader perspective has helped the industry develop new solutions and products to meet the demands of today’s architecture. That contribution has helped it expand and grow in new directions.

"I would emphasize that he is project-oriented," says Dunmire. "He has the ability to look way down the process line and doesn’t get hung up on the early details of a project. He is gifted in being able to see beyond the challenges."

A Many-Faceted Personality

According to Ave, in his leisure time, Dlubak likes to fly his own plane, go scuba diving or fishing, examine his collection of antique Model-T cars, ride a motorcycle, or lose himself on the internet. He seems to enjoy being alone with his own thoughts, and yet both Ave and Alyssa report that he especially enjoys having dinner with his children, and fishing or scuba-diving with their son and other friends.

"He’s certainly not a conformist," Alyssa quips. "He is very easy-going and affectionate." She adds that, when they were younger, her father never hesitated to "embarrass us with hugs in public. And, even though he worked seven days a week, he was always there for us. He has very high values and morals and he passed them on to us."

Schoener describes Dlubak as a man with a thoughtful and kind temperament. For example, "On one cold, winter day, somebody came into the office off the street, asking for directions. We told him how to get where he was going and he went back out to his car. But, before he could pull away, Frank had gotten up from his desk, gotten a cup of steaming hot coffee, and brought it out to the man. I don’t know many other chief executives who would do that," says Schoener. "Frank really believes that if you drop a pebble into the water, you never know how many people the ripples from that water will touch."

Insight into his philosophy comes from Dlubak himself who, when he flies his small private plane, finds the freedom to think his own thoughts. "I sit in the very center of the plane, it has an (old-fashioned) stick to control it, and it has a glass ceiling. I feel just like a bird," he describes. "I can make the plane turn almost just by leaning to the right or left. It really puts things in perspective. It makes me realize just how insignificant I am and that there really is a God in control of this vast universe."

Bringing himself back to solid ground, he adds, "I have such a wonderful group of people on the ground who are always supporting me."

Helen B. Price is a special projects editor for USGlass magazine.


SIDEBAR:

Awards and Honors

Frank Dlubak has a long list of awards and honors that recognizes his numerous contributions to the industry. But he is the kind of man who "barely notices them. I love what I do, and that’s my reward," he affirms.

Nonetheless, in 1986 he was awarded the Small Business Association Innovation Award for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That same year, his company was nominated Most Innovative Company in the United States. Dlubak Corp. was also given the 1986 Humanitarian Award for quality employment practices. The company also served as glass designer for the project that won the Storefront of the Year Award. Also in 1986, Dlubak was selected to receive the Operation Dig/Careers Inc. 1986 Humanitarian Award for his contributions toward making Pittsburgh, PA, a better place to live. In 1987, he was the keynote speaker at the DuPont convention in Atlanta. Dlubak Corporation has been honored with the glass industry’s prestigious Benedictus Award for its work on the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum. Additionally, Frank Dlubak has served as a consultant for DuPont, as well as Ford Motor Co., PPG, Ingersoll-Rand and Phieffer Wire.

Among projects completed by the Dlubak Corporation are: Statue of Liberty renovation, Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA, American Express Flagship Building in NC, Coca Cola Co.’s Atlanta, GA, headquarters, Sears Tower in Chicago, the Times Square renovation, St. Nicholas Syrian Orthodox Church in San Francisco, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Bunker Hill renovation project. There are even more, too numerous to mention in this space.

If you ask Dlubak which of the projects he most enjoyed, he is hard-pressed to answer. But he does mention the renovation of the Statue of Liberty in the late 1980s. "I went after that job," he remembers. "We designed and installed 16,000 pounds of glass walls and stair rails inside the statue. We also supplied the glass that went into the statue’s hat. It really was a fun thing to do," he adds.


Nominate a Deserving Colleague

Perhaps you know someone who has fought endlessly for the good of the industry, who has contributed to the advancement of glass and metal—maybe he or she is a colleague in your own office.

The Glass and Metal Hall of Fame was established in 1994 to honor those professionals who give of their time and talents for the betterment of the industry as a whole. Each individual has been selected in appreciation of their professionalism, involvement in business and civic organizations and their contributions to the glass industry.

The 1998 inductees epitomize those qualities the Glass and Metal Hall of Fame was established to recognize. They are:

To nominate an outstanding colleague to receive this prestigious award next year, contact USGlass for a nomination form or access the form at our web site: http://www.usglassmag.com.


USG

Copyright 1998 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.