Cardinal Turns 50: Focus is the Key, According to O'Shaughnessy
April 26, 2012

by Sahely Mukerji,

The first Cardinal IG plant in St. Louis Park, Minn.

A steadfast focus on customers has enabled Cardinal Corp. to successfully complete 50 years in business, says Roger O'Shaughnessy, president and CEO.

"We were lucky," O'Shaughnessy says. "A lot of great customers brought us here. Customers come first, and second people. There's no substitute for paying attention to the customer. It all begins there. Once you know what the customer needs, you can release the power of knowledge and of all your people to supply that need with new and innovative things. We can't invent anything unless we know what the world needs."

O'Shaughnessy is uniquely qualified to know; he has spent 49 years with the company. "I became president in 1967 and haven't had a promotion yet," he jokes.

O'Shaughnessy joined the company a year after M.L. Gordon Sash and Door Co. in Minneapolis started Cardinal Corp. in 1962. "It was intended to supply sealed insulating glass (IG) units to the founding company that made windows and doors," he says. "Gordon started the company because IG was becoming popular because of its convenience. Prior to that, storm windows were used and they had to be washed every spring and fall and installed again. It was a lot of work for the consumers. Also, at the time, lead time for IG from established companies, such as PPG [Industries] and Libby Owens Ford (LOF), was about a year."

There was upward of 1,000 IG companies that had sprung up during the period when O'Shaughnessy became the president. "Today we are the only surviving company out of those 1,000," he says.

Back then, in 1963, Cardinal had 12 employees; its sales in 1967 was $250,000, O'Shaughnessy says. In 1969, the company saw its first profitable year, and, by 1978, it began making silicone dual-seal units. "That was an important decision," he says. "The silicone dual-seal units have very good longevity and I truly believe that is the reason we have survived today and many companies did not."

In 1976-77, after the Arab oil embargo, Cardinal started making large volumes of triple-pane units, which then set the stage for rapid development of low-emissivity (low-E) coatings in 1983, O'Shaughnessy says. "Cardinal decided to put low-E directly on glass, because they were perceived to be permanent," he says. "Throughout the 1980s the coatings became more complex in their layer structure, or optical complexities that demand cleaner and more pristine float glass surfaces."

Cardinal's entry in the coatings market stemmed from necessity. "In effect, no one, PPG Guardian, LOF Pilkington or Ford Glass division, agreed to make low-E coating for Cardinal, because at the time, they were being made for commercial buildings and sold at very high prices," O'Shaughnessy says. "Because we couldn't purchase coatings, we decided to make our own."

In 1992, Cardinal opened its first float plant in Menomonee, Wis. "When it came to float glass in 1992, it was the same story-float companies were not willing to provide assurances that the surfaces would be pristine," O'Shaughnessy says. "So, again, we made the decision, reluctantly, to enter the business."

In 1994, Cardinal officials decided that the company's business model needed to be national and no longer regional. "So we began expanding to all of these centers of residential window production," O'Shaughnessy says. "We have clearly concentrated our business in the residential sector. We do not do automotive or commercial high-rise glass."

Today, IG is the most successful division of the company, but it goes back and forth with the market, O'Shaughnessy says.

Currently, Cardinal has 5,500 employees, 32 production facilities, two research locations, one distribution facility and one corporate office.

"We have half a dozen employees who came to the company in mid-70s and they're nearing retirement age," O'Shaughnessy says. "We have a lot of young people because a lot of our growth took place in the 1990s. We built half our factories in the 1990s."

Mike Tourville, account manager based in Eden Prairie, Minn., is one employee who has stayed with the company since its early days. "Seeing a small regional glass company explode into a national brand has been the true American dream," he says.

Bowie Neumayer, vice president of sales and marketing, agrees. "Fifty years is a long time, I am not sure if there are many if any insulating glass companies left from 1962 other than Cardinal," he says. "It is a true testament of always moving forward."

So, what will the next 50 years bring?

"We have been embroiled in developing a family of product for the solar industry, but the Chinese have literally destroyed that industry in North America," O'Shaughnessy says. "So, we are retooling our technologies to advanced residential products, such as, I89 room side low-E product that enables customers to convert to future Energy Star requirements; lightweight triple-pane also for Energy Star; and X89 an exterior product for anti-condensation and low maintenance."

Overall, Cardinal will continue to operate with its brand of passion for excellence, O'Shaughnessy says. "We just always wake up and we are never comfortable," he says. "If somebody in our company becomes comfortable, it may be time for them to retire. We are intensely competitive, and we are proud that we do not behave or think like other glass companies. We are always thinking about adding value, but we sell them thinking about commodity behavior in the market."

This story is an original story by USGlass magazine/USGNN™. Subscribe to USGlass magazine.
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