A Clear Vision
It has been said that great business leaders are those who strategically transform vision into reality. The road toward this transformation is not easy or clearly obvious. It requires the ability to analyze and develop an organization, to value the people within it and to remain consistent within the sphere of their influence.
Anne Merelie-Murrell has garnered a great deal of respect and recognition as a leader with indisputable leadership skills. This is seen in the success of Giroux Glass Incorporated, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, which is celebrating its seventy-year anniversary this year as one of the nation’s premier glass, glazing and architectural metals contracting companies.
Originally established as a family business by Louis Giroux in 1946, the company served the residential and commercial glass needs of the Los Angeles area with its staff of ten.
Giroux Glass has seen phenomenal growth since the company was purchased by Murrell in 1991 and now employs a staff of over 180. In fact, Giroux Glass had grown over 300 percent under Murrell’s guidance by 2001, while maintaining the company’s core values and culture.
Murrell is a graduate of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, which is near the company headquarters. She purchased the company as an expression of her commitment to help revitalize the community that she had come to love. It was also an endeavor to provide jobs and a great working environment.
She was successful, and the company was recently – yet again – named one of the ‘Best Places to Work’ in the city by the Los Angeles Business Journal. It is also among the nation’s top twenty glazing and curtain wall contractors. Although Murrell resigned as the company’s CEO, she remains chairman of the board and is active in the commitment to pass on her vision and company legacy.
“The vision has evolved for Giroux,” explains Nataline Lomedico, Giroux’s current president and chief executive officer. “From the beginning, [Anne] treated her employees like family and spoke about creating their own destiny. We carry that culture today …The vision has always been focused on being the best.” Nataline herself started her tenure with the company as the controller, then acted as chief financial officer before moving into her current role.
For Giroux Glass, being the best translates to, “handling the most challenging jobs better than anyone else, and to perform the job with the utmost quality. There are no short cuts. We treat our jobs like we treat our family. We treat them with care and dedication.”
The company has additional offices in San Bernardino, Fresno and Las Vegas and is licensed in Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico.
Giroux Glass specializes in the commercial, residential design and retail sectors. Aside from its original service division, the company has branched out to include an award-winning high-end design and computer-aided drafting (CAD) division.
“We are diversified within our core business,” states Nataline. “To the best of our knowledge, we are the only glazing contractor to work in the service sector, high-end residential and commercial.”
This expansion of services, “has allowed us to fully service our clients from concept to completion,” adds Nataline. “With time, we expect to also service those completed projects in the future.”
Regarding the company’s growth and increase in services, Barbara Kotsos, the company’s director of marketing and public relations adds, “it would never been things that the originator, Louis Giroux, would have considered when he started the company.”
It’s no secret that the most successful businesses are those that not only have stood the test of time through a competitive advantage but have also developed and maintained effective partnerships. Giroux Glass has established a number of partnerships over the past seventy years, mostly with general contractors. These partnerships, along with exceptional leadership within the company, enable the quality and timely completion of the most challenging of projects.
“Our role as a valued partner is to deliver what our clients are delivering,” says Nataline. “In construction, nothing is more important than quality and meeting schedules. We have made it our mission to align ourselves with companies who share our values and have similar cultures. We prefer our work to be surrounded by high quality from other trades.”
She notes that the company is occasionally involved with its high-end design division, working closely with the architects. “Integrity, safety and quality are packaged together from our own vendors to Giroux to our clients.”
Time is of the essence in any construction project. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that all those involved with any given project are aware of its progression and, in some cases, delays. “We must be flexible and prepared for delays. We focus on being proactive to find solutions when delays arise,” affirms Nataline. “We maintain our quality no matter what the situation is. We also focus on collaboration and notifying all parties involved as soon as we know that an unforeseen obstacle may cause a delay. Communication is key. Through upfront communication, we maintain trust with our clients.”
Another essential element for businesses hoping to transition vision into reality is the ability to innovate – to remain ahead of the curve – so that all operations, services and products remain fresh while bringing added value to clients. This involves taking risks and closing apparent gaps to enable a company to outshine the competition. For Giroux Glass, a company that’s involved with numerous challenging and complex projects, this remains especially true.
Innovation “is one of our most paramount concerns,” says Barbara. “We want to be seen as the company that can figure out how to get it done, in the most efficient new way of getting it done that we can. I think that we do have that reputation for being innovative … Everything about us wants to embrace the spirit of innovation.”
Nataline further explains that the company attends construction trade shows throughout the United States as well as some in Europe. The company encourages vendors to visit and teach employees about products and services. They also, “take field trips to manufacturing plants to see the newest technology in action,” she adds.
Group discussions and the sharing of thought-provoking ideas are a valued part of the company’s culture as evidenced by its ‘Idea Drive’, a forum for employees to bring ideas to the forefront. “Ideas compound and lead to innovation,” notes Nataline. “We promote and support education, and attend seminars and conferences. By assisting our employees to grow, we are not only promoting innovation, we’re promoting their personal growth.”
Every project for Giroux Glass comes with a unique set of challenges, and the company is not one to back away from a challenge, particularly not from one that others view as difficult or even impossible. “We focus on the possibilities, not the barriers,” says Nataline.
Those challenges can be varied in complexity, demanding not only exceptional skill sets from Giroux’s employees but a deep regard for safety with strict adherence to regulations. This is particularly true of those projects involving high rises, “where we truly excel at the challenges involved in having to get cranes to move huge pieces of glass,” says Barbara. “Moving panels of glass from and onto the exterior of high-rise buildings, in and out at the heart of a bustling downtown area, at that level, is a very good and visible definition of a challenge.”
Another challenging project of the company’s the extensive ongoing work it has completed for LAX, one of the country’s largest airports, with which the company has been involved since its initial build. The challenges there are to complete complicated projects around the flow of traffic – airplane, car and traveler! – by performing work at times when it’s least busy, throughout the night. It also requires high levels of security to meet high airport standards to access the areas being renovated. The company recently completed the international (“Bradley”) terminal, terminals 1 and 4, and its quality work and reputation keep bringing the team back for ongoing renovations.
“One of the largest areas of complexity in our trade is the installation – finding a way to install the glass,” comments Nataline. “We do a lot of jobs on cliffside homes, hanging over the ocean, where we have to install glass from the exterior and deal with the strong winds and so forth. One piece of glass can weigh over 1000 pounds. Sometimes it takes up to ten men holding and manipulating one piece of glass to get it installed off the side of a building.”
There is a myriad of other projects that Giroux Glass has brought to successful completion over the years. But, perhaps the most impressive testament to Giroux Glass’ professionalism and quality workmanship is the SkyWalk over the Grand Canyon constructed in 2007.
This over $30 million project is a pedestrian cantilever glass bridge perched on the edge of the side of the Canyon and is seventy feet in length, and can hold 120 people. Giroux Glass was the company sought out to do the project when most would have shied away. “It is common to hear things such as, ‘we run to the fire, not away,’ down the halls of Giroux Glass,” adds Nataline.
Giroux Glass is Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certified. At least seventy-five percent of Giroux’s executive team are women. There are a number of benefits to having such certification, but for Giroux Glass, “it was the smart thing to do,” explains Nataline. Originally, the company sought this certification for additional job opportunities and because it was a requirement for some government contracts. However, through the years, “the focus shifted more to being the best for the job and not ‘just because’ we were WBE. Our clients sometimes do rely on our WBE certification in order to meet owner requirements, so it does help us service our clients.”
Barbara concurs by saying that it is nice to see Giroux Glass breaking the barriers for women but, “our focus will always be to hire the most qualified person for the job, regardless of gender.”
Giroux Glass is also an ESOP company (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) and hopes to be fifty-one percent employee owned by 2021. “It was an avenue for Anne-Merelie to give the ownership of the company to the employees (or ‘partners,’ the term we use) – the people that helped the company become a success,” shares Nataline.
Although Anne had considered selling the company several years ago, she had a change of heart after realizing that, “she wanted her legacy to carry on in what she had envisioned the future of Giroux to be.”
“We’re the beneficiaries of her generosity,” adds Barbara. “It’s kind of a reward for having to work so hard to getting [the company] to this point.”
“Our vision is to be the best glazing and architectural metal contractor handling the most challenging projects with the highest quality and value,” says Nataline. “We will never compromise our integrity or commitment. We will provide jobs and fulfill dreams of countless employee-partners and their families to come.”