Gates Brings Humanitarian Goals Back to the IndustryOctober 11th, 2021 by Drew Vass
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” said Al Pacino in his role as Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part III.” Little did he, and esteemed film director Francis Ford Coppola, know that line would become a common expression and one that’s often used when someone returns to a former industry—even if that industry is the door and window market.
In January 2020, Scott Gates, former president of Western Window Systems, resigned from his post to pursue an entrepreneurial business to help inmates develop skills and land jobs. While he originally intended to launch an “athleisure” clothing company, last week Gates announced an official return to doors and windows.
“When I resigned back in 2019, you interviewed me regarding my passion to start an entrepreneurial venture focused on helping attack our issues around mass incarceration,” Gates says. “I wasn’t thinking I would build that business as a window and door company.”
In late 2020, with his wife Maria and fellow co-founders John Engelstad and Andrew Darr, Gates created Awake, an “athleisure” clothing company designed to employ incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. In the 2019 interview, “I want to be on the right side of history,” Gates told [DWM]. “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.”
Then he was pulled back in.
After exploring other business models, “I realized that it was best to pivot back to what I knew best—luxury residential windows and doors,” Gates says. In a press release dated October 7, officials for Awake Window and Door Co. announced that a new manufacturing facility in Gilbert, Ariz., is officially open and the company is “actively taking and producing orders for our dealer network across North America,” says John Engelstad, chief operating officer.
“We knew the ‘why’ of our business was rooted in a desire to create employment opportunities for a people group that is often overlooked and under-estimated,” Gates says. “The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of that business ended up circling back to our decade-plus of experience leading and growing a window and door business in Arizona,” he adds. “We felt it would be incredible to show the market that some of the most vulnerable in our society are capable of building luxury window and door products that people love.”
The company’s engineering team spent the past year developing door and window products with narrow frames, aimed at the contemporary architectural market, including thermally broken aluminum multi-slide doors, hinged doors, window walls, casements, awnings, and sliding patio doors. Designs maximize glass size, wind load and water management, and energy efficiency, officials say. Door interlocks are as narrow as ¾-inch and door heights span as much as 18 feet tall.
As the company seeks to hire, its social mission for second chance employment is explained in detail, including on a new website. The concept is also “woven into the product series names, and is front and center on all job postings,” says Maria Gates, the company’s chief people officer. “We are proud to partner with great nonprofits around the valley and help this people group know that we would be honored to have them on our team,” she says.