Volume 50, Issue 11 - November 2015


The Determined Don

by Lyle R. Hill

The rumor mill in the glass industry constantly churns. It spews out yarns both large and small, some believable and others too far-fetched to even be considered plausible. But on occasion, a rumor turns out to be accurate so we are somehow encouraged to follow the next one, and on it goes. The mill continues to churn and we continue to listen. Often we even add our voice to a rumor we can’t really confirm but are not quite ready to ignore or deny. Rumors can almost become sport to some of us.

Earlier this year, about mid-June to be more precise, the industry’s rumor mill was churning fast and loud. Something big was in the works, and initial speculation was running high that it involved a primary glass manufacturer and a large fabricator. After a week or two, the rumors, as they almost always do, had spun out in all directions. Calls were made to long-standing industry insiders from well-known business analysts and consultants, and this fueled the speculation all the more. Then suddenly, as will happen on occasion, the truth became known, and by September, the story was out and it was, indeed, a big one. In what is reportedly the largest transaction in industry history, Don Friese, the sole owner of C.R. Laurence, had sold his company to Oldcastle Building Envelope®, which is owned by the Irish construction supply conglomerate CRH Group, for $1.2 billion dollars.

I was fortunate … honored actually … to get the opportunity to interview Don Friese live on the show floor at GlassBuild America in Atlanta in September for USGNN.com™. In that interview (http://lyleblog.usglassmag.com/ 2015/09/a-truly-big-story), Don provides the background to his career story and a great deal of insight. There have also been several articles and commentaries that give even more details of the transaction and what is planned going forward for the business. However, to date, I have not seen anything mentioned about a part of this story that deserves some attention.

You see, I have known Don for a while and have had business dealings with him in non-traditional customer settings. Over the past several years, I have had the opportunity to speak with his son D.J. and some of his employees, including CRL president Lloyd Talbert.

Now to me, the total story of a business leader is more than just the numbers that are shown on a company’s financial statements … or the amount of money the business commands at the time it’s sold. The rest of the story is found in the personal interactions between the leader and his/her team. And it’s here that I have always been most impressed with Don Friese. You see, for as long as I have known him, he has constantly encouraged, trained, developed and nurtured the people around him, and I believe he was as happy for them as he was for himself when he gave bonus payouts to his employees that totaled more than $80 million.

After the live interview in Atlanta, we spoke for almost an hour. No cameras, no crowds, just Don, Lloyd and D.J. And it was easy to see and sense that Don was extremely proud of his team, and so happy to know that the company could continue on when he decides or needs to step aside. He teared up a number of times when talking about his people and how he had wanted so much to help them change and improve their lives. He was incredibly happy to believe he had been a catalyst for that. His son loves and admires him. His employees do, too. And I truly believe that means more to Don than any amount of money.

I asked D.J. if there had been any specific guiding principles that his father had followed or held fast to as they built CRL into the incredible company it became. He told me there were a couple of approaches to business that Don had always followed and taught to his team. The first was what Don called the 3-Cs. No matter what the situation, stay calm, stay clean and always stay current. In essence, be in control of at least yourself and your environment regardless of what you may be facing. The other was what D.J. described as Don’s common sense approach to running the business. It goes like this … first, see things as they really are, not as you might wish them to be or as someone may tell you they are, but as they REALLY are. Secondly, know what it is that needs to be done about the matter (whether positive or negative) and lastly, actually do it. Simple, direct and impactful.

Don Friese started his career in the CRL warehouse in 1961 filling orders, loading trucks and doing whatever was needed to take care of the company’s customers and help the business grow. The journey that followed was exciting and rewarding. I am incredibly happy for Don Friese and quite proud that our industry produced him. He is a great example for us all. Thank you, Don!

the author

Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech North America, a company providing research and technical services for the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years of experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at lhill@glass.com. You can read his blog on Wednesdays at lyleblog.usglassmag.com.

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