Volume 50, Issue 8 - August 2015

Going for the Gold
Innovators Celebrate 50+ Years in Glass

All of the business tips, lessons and seminars in the world are a poor match for the great lessons learned by experience. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God, do you learn.” If you don’t, you don’t survive. That’s why USGlass wants to mark its 50th anniversary with a nod to a small handful of the industry’s many survivors, innovators and leaders who each have more than 50 years of experience in the glass industry and have helped shape it into what it is today.

Edwin J. Berkowitz – 65 years

As a child, Ed Berkowitz looked forward to the Saturdays when he was invited to go to work at his father’s glass fabrication company, J.E. Berkowitz (JEB). “If I overslept and missed him, I cried bitterly,” he recalls.

But Berkowitz didn’t become involved in the company full time until 1950, after an already full slate of adventures: serving in the Navy in World War II, earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania courtesy of the GI Bill, marrying and undertaking a year of law school.

“I thought that my father could use the help,” Berkowitz recalls. “We had a very strong relationship of love, affection and respect, and I felt that the proper place for me to be was with him at that time. I had to finish law school at night so that I could get into the family business and help.”

That company had been founded in 1920 as a mirror manufacturer by Jacob E. Berkowitz, a Russian immigrant who gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. Army during World War I.

The company and its offerings have changed vastly over 50 years: JEB has grown from a small business with six employees and 30,000 square feet to 200 employees and 253,000 square feet of plant space.

But it’s the technical and professional growth that most surprises Berkowitz. “The biggest change the company has seen is the growth and professionalism in this industry,” he says. “We are now a very sophisticated manufacturing operation with lots of engineering talent, software systems and robotic equipment.

“It has gotten to be so technical. It really is remarkable. The equipment is filled with robotics and software programs, and the amount of glass types is just overwhelming—not in the dozens anymore, but in the thousands. It’s exciting,” he adds.

Exciting it may be, but Berkowitz cautions new and growing fabricators to watch out for that complexity in their own dealings. “The rules and regulations that guide us—the federal, state, local—require tremendous knowledge,” he cautions.

And staying on top of the latest offerings can require a tremendous investment, he adds. “Be aware of how this business sops up capital. There’s always some new technology on the market … and the investments are in the millions of dollars to stay on the leading edge.”

Berkowitz seems a bit surprised—or perhaps amused—to be asked for advice from his 50 years of experience, quipping, “I did not expect to even be alive 50 years later, but here I am.” When asked what keeps him interested in the industry, he laughingly answers “insanity.” After a brief moment, however, Berkowitz points to what got him into the business in the first place: family. “It’s a great privilege for a father to work with his son who is as talented and gifted as Arthur [current president of JEB] is,” he says.

Bill O’Keeffe – 61 years

“In 1954, when I was 15, I was installing skylights on a roof in Chico, Calif., with outside temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit with the roofer hot-mopping the roof as we were installing the skylights,” recalls Bill O’Keeffe of his early introduction to the glass industry. “At that age, my only expectations were to earn money, have a car and be interested in girls—and it hasn’t changed much.”

What he didn’t see coming was how, within a few short years, he would help define this industry.

First it was skylights. O’Keeffe’s Inc. became a name in the skylight business in the 1960s with the advent of aluminum extrusions. “We were the first in the nation to adapt aluminum extrusions to skylights, for which we had a patent,” O’Keeffe says.

Next it was curtainwall. “We helped (with Gene Tofflemire) design, build and install the first seismically designed curtainwall in the country.” The Santa Clara Civic Center in Santa Clara, Calif., was designed to survive a 7.5-magnitude earthquake without damage—and it did.

Then, in the late 1970s, while attending a trade show in Europe, it struck O’Keeffe that the United States was behind the curve in several areas: “Other than wired glass, we lacked both fire-rated glass, point-supported exterior glazing, roller wall and other innovations,” he recalls.

In 1978, O’Keeffe conducted the first U.S. testing of advanced fire-rated glazing, helping pave the way for fire-rated glazing manufacturing in the U.S. Despite his varied career, O’Keeffe finds that fire-rated glazing continues to hold his interest because of the constant research and development it requires. “It challenges my imagination to improve or create new products to meet new demands or the desires of the architectural community and the glazing industry,” O’Keeffe says.

Over the course of his 60-plus-year career, O’Keeffe has watched the industry become increasingly technical and science-driven. “When I started in the industry, no one was talking about U-values, shading coefficients, glass sputtering, edge deleting, iron sulfide crystal inclusion, chemical strengthening, electrochromic shading, solar energy panels, glass printing, fire-rated glass and the myriad of new innovations that have come about in our industry,” he points out. “[Architects’] expectations are driven by the fact that there are far greater options today to choose from, and I am sure it is more difficult for them to keep up with the speed of innovation in the glazing industry and still be assured of the product’s performance, the relation to other choices and the compliance with the codes.”

Deane Cramer – 55 years

A few short years after joining PPG in 1960, Deane Cramer was sent to Pilkington’s plant in Saint Helens, England, for a three-week course to learn about a new procedure in making glass: float glass. Upon his return, he would help start up PPG’s first float production unit with licensed technology—then build a career in assisting the float construction process.

“When I was selected to go to England to learn the float process, PPG’s upper management had already seen the process and was sold on its future,” Cramer recalls. “There was no doubt that it was a vast improvement over the polished plate operation in both quality and cost of producing.”

Still, ceramic engineers such as Cramer were tasked with improving the optical quality of the end product for their automotive and mirror customers. “It required us to discard what Pilkington sold us to make thin glass and design our own in-bath stretching machines.”

Cramer gained expertise in the process and soon was traveling the world to oversee the construction and start-up of float operations. He was involved in problem-solving for all PPG Glass plants in the United States, France and Italy, and led a working committee to help Guang Dong Float Glass Inc. organize all phases of building its glass factory.

After retiring in 1991, he became an independent consultant, which led him to continue this work in Japan, Russia, India and beyond. “My last consulting job was helping a new company, Arabian United Float Glass Co., start a float glass operation designed and built by a company from China in 2009.”

If there is one surprising thing about how glass production has evolved over the last 50 years, Cramer says, it’s how quickly float production took over almost all flat glass production.

Cramer, who celebrated his 83th birthday in September 2014, says that, as a 28-year-old fresh graduate from the University of Illinois, he never imagined that 50 years later he would still be focused on glass. “It just happened. When I took early retirement from PPG in 1991, I probably had more experience than anyone else in all the trials and tribulations of building, starting and operating float glass operations,” he says. “I am not a real expert in vertical drawing, but have observed enough start-ups and operating units to know the fundamentals of the process.”

John Heinaman – 54 years

Immediately after graduation at Franklin & Marshall College in May 1961, John Heinaman found himself an employee with Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co., selling paint and glass over the counter in Lancaster, Pa.

“This was not intended to be the start of a career, but a temporary job,” says Heinaman, today the CEO of Heinaman Contract Glazing in Lake Forest, Calif., consistently ranked by USGlass magazine as one of the top glazing contractors in the country.

Like many of his peers, Heinaman says he is continually surprised by the dynamic nature of the industry, including “the ability of the glass manufacturers to enhance the performance and value of glass products, especially in the design of structural glass walls.” Those enhancements are a must, he notes, as architects love to design to the maximum limits of manufacturing capacity.

When asked what keeps him engaged in glass more than 50 years later, he simply says it’s “the goal of successfully completing a project on time, within budget and the client wanting our team on their next project.”
That competitive nature keeps Heinaman working toward the next big project.

Alan Hunter – 52 years

Upon graduation in 1963, Alan Hunter found work at Pilkington in St. Helens, U.K., in its export-invoicing department, a move that would begin a lifelong involvement with the importing and exporting of glass and a career that would take him around the world.

From his global view, Hunter says the most surprising change is the worldwide connectedness of today’s industry.
Take, for example, the way product was shipped. “When I started out back in the ‘60s, there were no [shipping] containers,” Hunter recalls. “Cases were delivered individually down to the docks, and they were loaded into the ship that way. They had a permanent employee on the docks those days and that’s all he did—run around supervising and making sure that those cases were stowed properly.”

The true change, however, is in the cost of moving product. Today, Hunter says, it’s the same price to ship glass from the U.S. to Turkey as it is to move a container from his warehouse in Charleston, S.C., to Pittsburgh.

Having retired back in 2008—only to jump back in and co-found International Glass Specialists—Hunter says, “Retirement is not on the cards just yet.”

At 67 years old, Hunter is now involved with the Kingsport, Tenn.-based start-up Heritage Glass, the new owner of a plant purchased from AGC in early 2014. In this latest iteration of his career, Hunter says he still finds the enjoyment that has kept him working in glass for the last several decades.

“Like any industry, it can be very frustrating, but at the end of the day, I enjoy doing it,” he says.

Alan Freeman – 70 years

At the age of 13, Alan Freeman found himself writing the addresses on postcards his father would send out to clients of Royal Glass Works—an unavoidably personal touch for sales calls.

His career evolved from that early help into his father’s profession. “My father, who was known as Mr. Glass, had his own history. I still have a photo of him at 22 years of age, standing in front of a retail glass store in the Bronx, nattily dressed in a suit with an order pad in his hand and wearing spats (they were the height of fashion in those days) on his shoes. His sales career began with instructions that no glass orders he took would be shipped until he sold out the entire truck—now that was hard.”

At age 15, the senior Freeman helped his son get a job working at a local glazier in the Bronx, where he learned how to handle glass. “We were all given a pair of ‘rubbers,’ which were rubber squares in order to handle the product. There were no gloves,” Freeman recalls.

It never occurred to him that he would one day be celebrating 70 years in the glass industry, a witness to decades of significant changes.

Throughout his career in glass distribution, wholesaling and fabrication—from Royal Glass & Millwork to Solomon-Korff Glass Corp., General Glass International, Floral Glass, later purchased by Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, and, finally, his position as a manufacturer’s representative today—Freeman says he remains fascinated by the complexity and ever-changing nature of the industry. “I enjoy the trust that the people who know me still give me as they tap my brain,” he adds.

“I come from an era where all glass was known as sheet glass; glass imperfections and wave were allowed; and box glass of single thick and double thick were the major sellers,” Freeman shares. It still surprises Freeman to consider the incredible speed at which the industry has evolved into a technical business, well beyond supplying simple vision glass.

Wayne Gorell – 51 years

In the summer of 1964, Wayne Gorell found himself making storm doors at his father’s company, Season-All Industries Inc. in Indiana, Pa. “I’d always known that I wanted to work in the industry and never thought of doing anything else, other than my stint in the U.S. Air Force,” he shares.

1964 was a big year for the company, he says, because that’s when the first commercially available replacement window was manufactured. In 1974, the year after Gorell was discharged from the Air Force, Season-All made one of the first vinyl replacement windows, which it marketed with telethons (buying all the commercials for a whole Sunday afternoon TV movie).

It was with Season-All that Gorell was able to try every aspect of glass production—from installation to engineering to customer service—and found his calling in sales and general management.

From 1985 until 1992, Gorell served as president of the company, growing it to two residential plants, one commercial window plant, plus a plant each for the Thermal Gard division and glass fabrication. Upon leaving, he launched Gorell Window and Doors in 1993.

After decades of ups and downs with Season-All, Gorell was hooked.

“I still think the window business is a fascinating industry,” he says. “That there has been no one player dominating the industry in any facet. The closest we came was Royal Plastics in the 1980s and ‘90s for vinyl extrusions, but [they] still had lots of competitors.”

Gorell Windows would grow at least 10 percent every year until the Great Recession. The recession took its toll in 2012, and while today Gorell can still be found working in glass, it’s of a very different nature. (Editor’s note: In 2012 Gorell Windows closed and its assets sold to Soft-Lite.)

“In about 1992 my wife got into stained glass,” he explains. “She had a retail store doing instructional classes and selling supplies. I would help her with the classes and eventually got hooked into working in glass in our free time. I got interested in hot glass, and we bought a few kilns and started experimenting. We still have a full 3,000-square-foot glass studio making a variety of gift and decorative items.” Gorell is still in the glass business, after all.

© Copyright 2015 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.