Opening for Social Justice: Gates Turns to Entrepreneurialism to Make a Difference

In early November, officials for Western Window Systems announced that the company’s president, Scott Gates, would resign. After a nine-year stint including roles ranging from vice president and general manager to marketing director, effective January 31, 2020, Gates is set not only to leave his post but to make a complete exit from the industry. In a sidestep that’s fueled by a desire for social change, he’s leaving behind doors and windows in order to form a new venture: an entrepreneurial clothing business designed to help inmates gain new skills, earn fair wages
and provide for their families.

Scott, why leave the door and window industry, rather than, say, do this as a side gig or through charitable donations?

That is a great question, and it is certainly the difficult one I wrestled with as my wife and I made this decision … recently I was watching a documentary on HBO called “True Justice,” which highlights the work of Bryan Stevenson … he talks about the fact that if you ask most people today they would say, “If I was alive in the 1960s, I would have walked with Dr. King fighting for civil rights, or if I was in Germany in the 1940s, I would have stood up against the Holocaust,” yet here they are ignoring this crazy mass incarceration problem and they are doing nothing … I want to be on the right side of history. When our country has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners … I felt that charitable donations or volunteering wouldn’t make a big enough impact. I needed to dream bigger, and I challenged myself to think entrepreneurially …

When did this focus begin and where does it stem from?

A passion for this issue started at Western Window Systems, where I have been proud of the fact that we are a second chance employer. We have many people in our company that have been incarcerated in their past … Getting to know these individuals and their stories reminded me that each of them isn’t defined by mistakes they made in the past, but instead by the people they were becoming, which happened to be some of our best employees …

What can you tell us about the new clothing company?

We expect to enter the athleisure space targeting market share from well-known brands utilizing similar tactics … but our business will have an underlying purpose they cannot match … primarily to employ both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, and provide them a pathway to build a future for themselves and their families … What if we built a brand that told that story, and gave our customers the chance to wear that brand with pride and show everyone around them they are awoke to this issue and actively choosing to be a part of the solution?

Looking back, what do you feel were your greatest accomplishments at WWS?

In my nine years at Western, we grew from a $6M a year company to one that will do nearly $150M in 2019 … But when I think back about what I am most proud of … to me it’s all about the team of people we built and the culture they created. When customers or vendors visit our facility, they always remark on the amazing energy that our workplace exudes … In 2018, we were awarded one of Inc. magazine’s “Best Workplaces” … We did this because we have the most amazing group of people on the planet.

Lastly, regarding our nation’s punitive systems, do you think that we’re making progress toward something more effective?

I do believe we are making progress, and I think it is starting with greater societal awareness of the cost of some of our “tough on crime” legislation that rose to popularity in the 1990s. I feel like society is starting to think differently about minor offenses, sentence length, rehab versus incarceration, and even starting to understand some of the unfortunate racism that is systemic … It is my hope and prayer that our new business can also help to accelerate this issue to not only be a source for great products, but also a brand that attracts a group of people who … actively participate in the solution.

Executive Appointments

PGT Innovations (PGTI): announced in late November the appointment of Mike Wothe as president of Western Window Systems.

Effective December 2, 2019, Wothe’s role overlaps with outgoing president, Scott Gates, by two months (see Q&A article on page 50). The two will work together to “help ensure the smooth transition,” officials said.

Prior to PGTI, Wothe was president of Cardinal LG Co., a manufacturer of glass for residential doors and windows.

Quanex Building Products: announced several key leadership appointments in early November. Scott M. Zuehlke now serves as senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer; Mark A. Livingston was appointed chief accounting officer; and, in addition to his existing role as deputy general counsel, Paul B. Cornett serves as senior vice president, also replacing Kevin P. Delaney as secretary.


Wakefield Equipment Mourns Loss of Founder Ron Ober

In a heartfelt announcement, officials for Wakefield Equipment reported in mid-November that founder Howard Ron Ober passed away at the age of 73.

Company officials honored Ober, an entrepreneur and businessperson, for revolutionizing the door and window assembly process, they said, by introducing new equipment to manufacturers.

“Ron was a force who came along at the right time for the window and door industry. He was an example to us all and I strive to continue his vision …,” said Owen Cleary, current co-owner of Wakefield Equipment.

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