Marvin Windows CEO Paul Marvin Looks To Overhaul The Customer Experience

Paul Marvin has a big agenda as he settles in as the fourth-generation CEO of Marvin Windows and Doors, a family-owned company that is one of the biggest brands in the window business. One of his challenges is introducing innovations in how the company goes to market.

And perhaps surprisingly, another challenge for the fourth chief in the hundred-year-plus history of Marvin is getting other members of the family to embrace the idea of growth.

Based in tiny Warroad, Minn., the provider of mid- to high-end commercial and residential windows certainly has been growing as the U.S. economy and the housing industry have burgeoned, though the company doesn’t release sales figures.

But Paul Marvin told Chief Executive that he, his siblings and cousins must re-kindle some basic business ambitions at Marvin, partly to ensure a legacy of success to pass on to the fifth generation of family leadership.

“The time is now to grow and to really make a statement about our growth aspirations. Not growth for growth’s sake but because it allows us to secure a collective future.”

“You feel this great responsibility, given this asset, this great gift, and we’re not interested in just protecting it and then burying it and digging it up 20 or 30 years later,” he said. “We want to steward it and grow it.”

Generation three of Marvin-family leadership, including John W. “Jake” Marvin who handed the CEO post to Paul Marvin, acknowledged to the fourth generation that the company’s commitment to growth “wasn’t so much broken but had to be refreshed,” Paul Marvin said.
So, Marvin said, “The time is now to grow and to really make a statement about our growth aspirations. Not growth for growth’s sake but because it allows us to secure a collective future. And we have a higher purpose than making money.”

That company purpose officially, Marvin said, “is to ‘enrich the spaces and places where we live and work.’” But the broader context for that mission is “really understanding who your stakeholders are, the employees and families and communities we do business in and live in, our suppliers and customers” and then “to work like crazy to deliver on their needs.”

An example of how family-owned Marvin has reacted differently than other companies because of this purpose occurred in the onset of the Great Recession. “When the housing industry was brought to its knees, we stood alone [in the industry] in not closing any plant and not laying off a single employee, even while our orders were decimated,” Marvin explained. “It was hard, and we said, ‘How can we do this?,’ and we made some tough decisions. But we were able to follow through.”

Preparing the company for the future
Now, Marvin, who was named president about two years ago before ascending to the CEO role last August, faces the need to jump-start innovation to help ensure the perpetuation of the company and the extension of its legacy.

While he declined to get specific about how he and other members of the family’s fourth generation plan to do that, Marvin said that it has to do with overhauling the customer and user experiences involved in Marvin’s products and services, including “in the showroom and sales and consulting.”

“We’re taking a very disciplined approach to understanding who our customer is and what their core needs are – not what they say they want, but their unmet needs – and innovating around understanding those needs is the process we’re pursuing.”

Digital platforms “will play a huge role in that,” Marvin said, “but it’ll take new thinking in other competencies too. Experiences are becoming so important, and other industries are changing the game on experience. The product has to perform and has to be innovative, but we’re seeing an experience-driven economy, and the way you wrap experience around the product is becoming increasingly important.”

Besides rekindling the company’s commitment to innovation, Marvin said that he wants to strengthen its commitment to “serving stakeholders for the long-term. Profits aren’t the end game.”

Warroad is one of those stakeholders. Many family-owned companies anchor their local communities. But another thing that makes Marvin unusual is that it has more employees in its hometown than Warroad has residents: about 2,300 to about 1,700, out of Marvin’s total employment base of about 5,200 people in 10 cities across the country.

Keeping the family in the family business
And, of course, the extended Marvin family is the most significant stakeholder. Only five family members were involved in the third generation of the business, a number that expanded to 11 in Paul Marvin’s generation who work full-time in the company. Paul Marvin’s six children are among 30 members of a fifth generation of the Marvin clan that are eligible to work at the company.

“As owners and family members, we’re all on equal footing and have the same rights and responsibilities, and we all have to live up to those and hold each other accountable to those,” he said. In part for that reason, fourth-generation Marvins formed a “family council” to “foster education and relationships and a common understanding, and a forum for raising” issues.

Some time ago the company also instituted another practice that’s designed to keep Marvin-family members meaningfully engaged in the business – or working outside the business: They can’t become an owner of the business if they don’t work full-time at Marvin Windows and Doors by the age of 33.

“That gives them time to go to college or into the military or whatever else,” Paul Marvin explained. “There are no hard feelings” whether they end up joining the business by age 33 or not. “But we didn’t want passive investors waiting for quarterly dividends, and this helps a lot. We don’t have factions.

“We don’t have, say, Paul working hard as CEO while cousin Jim – and we don’t have a cousin Jim – is just wondering where his quarterly dividend is.”

Dale Buss
Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other top-flight business publications. He lives in Michigan.

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