It was June 15, 1936, and upon his lawyers’ advice, a 29-year-old Donald J. Burch registered the Colorado Steel Sash Co. At the time, a loaf of bread cost only eight cents, but many people couldn’t afford that, let alone the average $4,000 home. Only the bravest and boldest started a business during these times. Don was one of them.
Most homes in 1936 were still fit with wooden windows, but steel windows were the up-and-comers. Don set out to make windows from steel but soon discovered that steel window putty made a huge mess. It was a lot like natural peanut butter – all of the heavy stuff would sink to the bottom, and all of the oil sat at the top. Well, like most folks, this frustrated Don. Turns out, frustration was the mother of invention (or something like that).
Don was a curious guy, so naturally, he took his college English degree and went to work in the chemistry lab. It was time to make a non-messy window putty formula. He made the putty one bucket at a time, tweaking the formula along the way. Eventually, perfection happened. Don homogenized window putty! He named it Elasti-glaze.
Fast forward a few years. By1941, Don had added a caulking to his product offerings and built his first manufacturing plant. He bought some industrial-sized bread dough mixers to put in the new building and began turning out both products in 100 and 200 gallon batches.
Don’s curious nature was always at play. He soon realized that his sales force needed a competitive edge, which meant visiting customers in faraway locations more quickly. Don wasn’t just an English major, he was a flying English major.
He took his pilot training and trained every sales rep to be a pilot.
By the early 1950s, the company has grown! They branched out into 7 different warehouses across the U.S., as well as a second manufacturing facility in Seattle. But growth was about to meet an unexpected tragedy. In 1954, Don died in a plane crash while visiting the Seattle branch. He left behind a pregnant wife, a 4 year old son, and a thriving business. For a decade, innovation stopped and the business gew stagnant.
A decade later, in 1964, Don’s widow Alice was alerted to the difficulties the company was having. Her nephew Gary Schneider, who was production manager at the time, contacted her about his concerns. Alice wanted to preserve the company for her children, so she took over management in mid-1964. The future of the company looks unsure.
But where other companies might fold, Sashco’s strong foundation kept the business afloat and would for decades to come.
You see, more important than what Don did is how he did it. Integrity was behind Don’s dedication to do his best in everything. Years later, the integrity that Don exemplified was spelled out. Sashco team members met over several months to identify exactly what it was that made (and still makes) Sashco special. They boiled it down to five specific values of truth, trust, care, forgiveness, and respect. These values started and grew a business able to withstand tragedy, and it’s these values that underscore every new product created, every hallway conversation, every business decision. Because it’s not just delivering products that work that creates growth. More importantly, it’s a dedication to running the company in a way that honors people.
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