Every product I’ve ever designed has been flawed: there’s no such thing as a perfect product. However, that doesn’t stop me from pursuing perfection. It’s a goal, a target, but never a destination. That’s what keeps me young at 68.
My current passion is called 2Fold® Doors. It occurred as a pivot away from my fourth attempt to manufacture a thermally broken, hot-rolled steel window and door system called Thermal Steel: in turn a pivot off my steel window manufacturing adventure in Poland.
I learned a lot that summer, for instance, how to drive the “3 on the tree” transmission and how to properly assemble and install garage doors with no power tools at all.
My story really began in the summer of 1967 between my junior and senior years of high school in Hampton, VA. My father had a small business that installed garage doors for builders and he was about to lose his only installer for three months. That summer he tossed me the keys to his company’s truck and told me to go figure it out. I had to learn quickly or my father would go out of business. Yes, he trusted his soon to be 17-year-old son with the future of his business. I learned a lot that summer, for instance, how to drive the “3 on the tree” transmission and how to properly assemble and install garage doors with no power tools at all.
The next forty years were a series of window selling, designing and manufacturing escapades, with mixed results. In other words, I had great ambitions without the resources to fully pull them off. Then came my partnership with the father and son team in Poland, Michael and Kazi Dymek. They made hot-rolled steel windows and doors for me, with some success.
After a year or so, they wanted me, the person who gave them an avenue to sell their product, to meet the Stumm brothers—the owners of Montanstahl in Switzerland whose support allowed them to go into business. Michael and Wolfgang Stumm had revolutionized the manufacture of hot-rolled steel bars. These bars were purchased by all the major window and door manufacturers in the world: Hope’s Windows, Crittall, Optimum, Clement, Bliss-Noram. These profiles are steel windows; they are the “extrusions” that make up both sashes and frames. I had used their bars on over a hundred projects, and jumped at the chance to meet Michael and Wolfgang.
I flew into Milan, Italy; about 45 minutes from Stabio, Switzerland, where Montanstahl was located; and my Polish drivers picked me up. It was just supposed to be a 20-minute, friendly meet and greet with Michael Stumm, the marketing brother.
The meeting’s conversation turned to my experiences as the largest sales agent for Hope’s, my engagement with Optimum Window, and my almost being part of purchasing Crittall in the UK. Intrigued, Michael asked his assistant to bring in the plans for a new thermally broken bar concept that they were developing.
The assistant returned empty handed and was followed in by Wolfgang—Michael’s engineering brother—who was livid. He abruptly questioned Michael’s sanity asking him how he could even think of revealing their design to me, a perfect stranger. As we discussed what I would do with the technology, Wolfgang loosened up and we had a wonderful exchange of ideas. I had won him over and Michael was vindicated.
Four or five hours later, we were fast on our way to designing what became Thermal Steel, a revolutionary, thermally broken steel window and door system. This system created a thermally responsible solution that the architectural community was craving because it mitigates the transfer of heat that normally occurs in a metal frame.
Before I was introduced to the technology, Hope’s and Crittall rejected it, claiming: “Steel windows do not need thermal breaks.” It was sad to see such big-name companies stuck in the past, but the fact of the matter was they were dinosaurs, lucky to survive this potential extinction event.
Montanstahl, on the other hand, was quite evolved. And, a million dollars later, a building was built in Texas that Thermal Steel would share with another major Montanstahl expansion into production of stainless steel structural shapes.
Six months after the building was complete the Stumm brothers suddenly pulled the plug on our joint venture.
The system was then sold to another firm called Architectural Traditions (AT) in Tucson, AZ, who promptly moved $9 million of product within the first 7 months. AT owed me a royalty that they couldn’t afford and they refused to pay. They only paid me a tiny fraction of the royalty on sales of the Thermal Steel products they actually sold, arguing that they never expected to sell so much. Four months later they went out of business. The receiver sold our system to the aluminum window giant, Arcadia, and it is still being sold today.
Undeterred, I hit the road and took my variant of the design with me. I brought it to a factory in Pennsylvania to recreate it for a former partner. At the time, he was working for a NY window and door company.
My ex-partner’s company in turn asked me to teach their Bosnian window fabricators how to build the system to save money; so off I went to Bosnia. That venture was short-lived and ended in a screaming match, with my ex-partner, in the middle of Manhattan swearing never to speak again. I left a lot of money on the table.
Yes, this was an emotionally charged and financially draining experience. But as I see it, every challenge throughout my career had pushed me closer to my ultimate goal; this particular instance was no different.
I began designing 2Fold® to overcome the engineering, manufacturing, and strength-of-section problems that plague Thermal Steel systems to this very day. To get past these issues, I worked with a programmer to devise a custom software engine. I’m now confident that 2Fold® is stronger than any other steel window and door system out there. What started out as a folding door, the thinnest one in the world, is now a complete window and door package for discerning architects and builders. Best of all, I can build and deliver it in 8-10 weeks.
Products at the conceptual stage do not bring success. I’ve had to build a system that will accurately automate the engineering and manufacturing processes in order to deliver them on-time and to my quality standards. Finally, after three long years of development, testing and certification, 2Fold® is coming onto the market.
After so many outrageous experiences and tough lessons learned, have I reached perfection? No. But like I said, perfection is a goal, a target, but never a destination. So, until I reach that next big step, I will continue to innovate, find flaws, and fix them. This last iteration is the best of its kind - and that's a great place to start.