Worn on the Fourth of July

By the time you read this, our July Fourth celebration here in the States will be a semi-distant memory. The hamburgers will have been devoured, flags waived and fireworks exploded. But the cause for celebration will remain.

The glass industry has taught me a lot about what makes the U.S. work and what we can take pride in. I’d like to reflect upon them here.

First off, the industry has taught me that the American dream is very real. Over the years, I have gotten to write about and follow numerous small business owners and entrepreneurs as they grew those businesses in gigantic corporations. I’ve seen the American dream in action. It lives in people like Russ Baumgardner, who loaned a small auto glass company $5,000 to see it through an employee embezzlement incident in exchange for stock. The company had one location on the street for which it was named, Harmon Glass Company. I got to watch Baumgardner grow Harmon from that one location to transform it into what it is today—the publicly-traded, multi-faceted Apogee Enterprises.

Baumgardner is just one of the many such American success stories I have covered as they’ve developed. Consider Don Friese, who began life as a poor orphan in rural Pennsylvania. After high school, he enlisted in the Army, and at the end of his three years there, moved to California with $125 in his pocket. He began working in the warehouse of a small tool and supplier distributor, C.R. Laurence (CRL). Over the years, he acquired various ownership interests in CRL until he owned it all and continued to grow the company. In 2015, at the age of 75, Friese sold CRL to Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® for $1.3 billion in cash.

These are not success stories just because they involve the eventual accumulation of great wealth. While maybe not on as grand a scale, I have also seen the other hallmark of our country—its generosity. I’ve seen employers carry injured employees for years and companies support the families of employees who have passed. I have seen at least one glass shop owner, the now retired Bob Lawrence of Houston, load up trucks full of supplies and donate them to other glass companies in the region—his competitors—after a major hurricane hit. There is nothing like the American spirit of giving that lives within our industry.

And finally, I have heard it from others. I will never forget a conversation I had with the late Dr. Dino Fenzi of Fenzi S.p.A. at glasstec a number of years ago. It was after 9/11 and we were talking about the then-current geopolitical conditions and the differences between the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world. “You have to remember why the United States is held in such high regard,” he said to me. “The rest of the world may talk about opportunity and talk about fairness,” he said, “but the United States really is one of the few places where you can be born into nothing and become successful. You may have been powerless at birth, but you can even rise to the Presidency of the United States. Most countries say this, but the U.S. demonstrates it over and over again.”

Dr. Fenzi was right.

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