In case you missed it, Seigle’s President, Mark Seigle, was recently interviewed by the Courier-News. The newspaper caught up with the man of the hour at a “CEO Unplugged” event to get a glimpse inside the world of Seigle’s. Check out the enlightening and humorous interview below as Mark discusses company reinventions, flunking retirement, bidets, and baseball.
Mark Seigle chats with chamber members after being humorously grilled in the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Unplugged session Wednesday.
Updated: May 9, 2014 2:37AM
ELGIN — Since starting out in 1881 as the Elgin Lumber and Coal Co., Seigle’s Cabinet Center has had to reinvent itself many times. But President Mark Seigle said the family’s decision to sell out, right before the construction and lumber industry crashed, was not so much genius as luck.
Seigle on Wednesday was the latest grill-ee in the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce’s “CEO Unplugged” series, which has been bringing leaders of local businesses before chamber members to explain everything from their philosophy of management to their biggest mistakes to whether they cheer for the Cubs or the Sox.
“The reason we’re still in operation after all these years is that we have reinvented ourselves over and over,” Seigle said. When coal went out of fashion, what became Elgin Lumber Co. filled the needs of the building contractor.
When “home improvement” became all the rage, it turned into Seigle’s Building Centers, catering to the do-it-yourselfer. When “Agent Orange” — as Seigle refers to the Home Depot chain and its big-box partners — began capturing the do-it-yourself business, the company again began to focus on contractors, even setting up its own truss factory in Hampshire. It grew to 1,600 employees at sites all over the Chicago area.
And then, in 2005, a knock came on their door from a large British firm named Stock Building Supply. The Brits offered to buy the chain. Seigle and his then-partner, brother Harry Seigle, agreed to sell.
But the 33,000 houses that Chicago-area contractors erected that year plummeted to 3,000 in 2008, and that number still has crept up to only 5,000 last year, he said. “The auto industry tanked when its sales went down 50 percent. We went down 90 percent.”
Stock asked whether the Seigles wanted their stores back. Mark Seigle said no but did agree to buy back the firm’s relatively small cabinet sales operation. Stock sold the rest of the stores to another company, which finally closed them all.
Chamber members asked why he chose to get back into the business.
“I flunked retirement,” he said. “A lot of people would think, ‘49 years old and all the money you need — that’s Nirvana.’ But when you get up in the morning, it’s nice to have someplace to go.”
However, the change was drastic, he said.
“We went from 1,600 employees to 16, and all of a sudden I was the vice president of marketing and the vice president of finance and the vice president of human resources.”
Among Seigle’s other revelations during an hour filled with much laughter:
His most embarrassing mistake: When he was a young man learning the business, he saw his first photo of a bidet on the cover of a catalogue of Kohler’s toilets. He asked another employee what that thing was. The pranksterish co-worker told him that rich people put a bidet in their bathrooms so their dogs can drink from it.
A builder came in, saw the catalogue and remarked, “So they still make bidets! We used to have one.”
“Oh, you must have a dog!” Seigle said.
The person he most looks up to: Building contractor, philanthropist, fundraiser and church leader Jack Shales. “He’s my role model of what you should be like. One day I’d like to grow up and be Jack Shales.”
His worst business mistake: Opening a home improvement store in heavily Jewish Buffalo Grove. Seigle, who is Jewish himself, said he should have realized that if a Jewish family even owned a screw driver, they probably used it to spread cream cheese. The Seigles finally closed the store, “about a million dollars too late.” The building sat empty, still sucking up money.
But then the members of a Buffalo Grove synagogue approached Mark and Harry, wanting to buy the building. Brother Harry said, “There is a God!”
His most important education: “My MBWA degree. That’s Management By Walking Around. If I tripped over a piece of garbage without picking it up, my father would be turning in his grave.”
The most amusing raffle result he has seen at a similar Elgin event: When a basket of items marked “Date Night” was being raffled off by one charity and the winner turned out to be Catholic nun Sister June Does.
What Walter Payton carried around in his car: When the Chicago Bears star appeared for a promotion at a Seigle’s location, he handed Seigle his car key and asked him to retrieve a special kind of marking pen he used to sign footballs. Payton said that could be found in the glove compartment of his expensive sports car. Inside the glove box Seigle found a supply of silver pens — and a gun.
As for the Cubs-Sox question, Seigle bluntly answered, “Who cares?” He said he attended the Cubs-Sox game the night before and “I should have brought a stopwatch. Baseball’s the most boring sport in the world.”
Source: The Courier-News
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