I never dreamed of working for the family business. There actually was a rule preventing Crane family members from joining. It gave us the freedom to follow our own passions and paths.
I was living in Chicago, joyfully pursuing a career at Quaker Oats. My husband’s new company was thriving. We had just finished renovating a beautiful old house on the North Shore. And I was pregnant with our first child. Life was perfect.
Then, while on a family vacation, my father slid a piece of paper beneath our door. Dad was famous for these morning notes, which included topics we would discuss that day. But this one came on the heels of Dad and my uncle Jim realizing they wanted the family business to stay a family business. For three years, he had been calling every Sunday night trying to woo me back to Columbus — a move I swore I’d never make. His morning note was direct.
“We’re making a package deal for you and John to join us,” he wrote.
When we flew back to Chicago and walked back into our dream home, I turned to my husband.
“I think we have to do this,” I said.
It was a game-changing moment for us and the company; my cousin Mike and brother-in-law Tim joined as well, cementing the idea that Crane would remain family owned and run. And it led to a career, a community, and a life I love.
As Crane Group celebrates 75 years in business, I’ve reflected on other game-changing moments for the company:
- Life beyond just manufacturing plastics: Throughout our history, we were a plastics company, and everything we made was for other manufacturers. Then, in the 1970s vinyl siding took over the housing market, replacing brick and wood nationwide. Seeing an opportunity, we teamed with a duo out of Pittsburgh to launch Vinyl Improvement Products Company (VIPCO). From manufacturing to marketing, we owned the whole chain. It was our first foray into controlling our own destiny. We soon bought out the duo and learned a very important lesson along the way: Value alignment among partners is key.
- Growing up: In the early 1990s, we acquired another plastics company when we bought majority interest in Compression Polymers in Scranton, PA. We then invested in other small companies, too — Able Roof, Signature Controls, and Suburban Steel. We were diversifying our portfolio with founder-led companies that shared our values, and everyone was winning.
- Get small to grow: By 1999, business was booming in all directions. Plastics production for Andersen Windows was sky high. TimberTech decking was just taking off, but under Crane Plastics’ roof. We knew we could grow companies like Suburban Steel further faster but were constrained by our structure. We decided we had to get small to get large again. So we imploded the business. We broke the company up into nine LLCs overnight and drafted every single Crane employee into one of them. We named CEOs for each company, gave them equity and let them fly. It worked — and paved the way for the Crane of today.
- Next gen: The 2010s brought another seismic shift. With advice from leadership and family, along with market intelligence, we thoughtfully and very carefully sold those legacy plastics businesses and positioned Crane for a new generation that has now joined us — the fourth in the family.
- Bold growth ahead: Now, with a freshly minted strategic plan, we are leaning into the value we provide as Crane Group, and we are growing our operating business portfolio in a more ambitious way than ever before. (We’re taking over our whole floor in our Belmont building — which is a great physical demonstration of our agenda.) We’re also investing in social impact opportunities, which is thrilling. I’ve never seen the team more energized — or more diverse. The future really is now.
For many years, it was easy to describe who we were and what we did: plastics. We’ve obviously evolved. Who are we now?
We are a company that invests in game changers — game-changing people, game-changing businesses, and game-changing community organizations.
I have always been passionate about this company. But I have never been more excited or confident than I am right now.
So throughout this 75th anniversary year, we will celebrate all we have been, all we are today, and all we will be for many generations to come. It is a privilege to work alongside such incredible team members, business partners and community organizations. Thank you to all who are part of our story, our work, and our good.
Here’s to changing the game in all the right ways.