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USGNN Original StoryTimeout with Kenny Walwer, Clover Glass, Richmond, Va.

Kenneth Walwer always said he wanted to retire in his forties. And just days before turning 50 he did just that when he sold Richmond, Va.-based Clover Glass to company vice president LD Breeden. Walwer says that Breeden had expressed interest in buying the company, should Walwer ever want to sell. And then late last year with his 50th birthday approaching Walwer says the time was just right.

Now, preparing for retirement and looking back on his career with Clover Glass, Walwer says he's the kind of guy who's very hands on and always out there working, everyday, with everyone else.

Q: Tell me about your background/experience working with glass.
A: On July 1, 1984, I left the family glass business in Petersburg, Va., to start Clover Glass in Richmond. We rented a one-bay garage and had only $1,000 to make it or break it. Because I was able to do auto work and grew to do commercial and residential, I was able to start the company as a full-service business. And over the years we grew almost solely by profit. The only loans I ever took out were for two trucks and one polishing machine. I believe in save and then buy. So it was a series of slow growth steps that left us with a lot of cushioning capital.

Q: In selling the company to vice president LD Breeden, was it something you'd planned for awhile?
A: It's something we'd been nursing for about five years, slowly shedding our responsibilities, mine to him and his to others. For about six months we did practice sessions where he would come in [and work in my place] and that worked very well.

Q: Any words of wisdom or advice you shared with him in regards to owning and operating a glass company?
A: I think we've been successful because of our employees; we'd be an empty building otherwise. We work for the employees first, and when they are happy they are able to project that image to customers. Also, I'd stress the importance of save and then buy and try not to use credit. We're very capitalized and so we're not seeing the same losses others may be experiencing.

Q: What are some things that you have done to prepare your company and employees for the new leadership?
A: The number-one thing for me, was I never wanted to sell to a large company only interested in market share. I wanted to grow the company to the point where I could step out and it could run itself. And because of our capital [when I went to sell to Breeden] the banks were willing to work with us.

Q: The economy is rough right now. What have you done to try and position the company to best weather the storm?
A: This is my third recession and it looks like it will be deeper than the others. But because we are a full-service glass business we focus on all aspects of glass and all of the employees are cross-trained in other areas. The automotive workers, for example, can do commercial jobs and the commercial workers can do automotive jobs. This way, when daily work comes in we might be slow in one area but booming in another, and we're equipped to handle that work.

Q: When you think about life after glass and the company being in someone's hands, what are some thoughts that come to mind?
A: I'd still like to see the company continue growing, so I'm sure I'll stay involved as a consultant … maybe helping expand to another location.

Q: What have been some of your career highlights?
A: Some days this job is like standing out in the middle of barge when the water is smooth and calm; other days it's like you're in rough waters in a skinny canoe. But one highlight for me came last year when we were doing our largest curtainwall job ever. At times the work had me very nervous, but in the end it went perfectly and we have not had any callbacks.

Q: What are your plans for retirement?
A: I have a lot of small equipment, such as a dump truck and Bobcat … I love machines. I do all of my yard work and my neighbors' yard work so I could see myself starting another small business. I also love boating and I have a couple of inventions in mind that I plan to prototype.

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