This year's recipient of the Jerry Metz Achievement Award is Steve Bell, CEO of family-owned, Washington-based frameless cabinet manufacturer Pacific Crest Industries. Bell got into the cabinet industry nearly 35 years ago when he decided to leave a career in commercial diving to marry his wife, Carolyn, and go to work with his father-in-law, a homebuilder. This led to the incorporation of Pacific Crest Industries (originally BellCon Construction) in 1981.
"I launched off on my own and just started doing remodeling and cabinet work, and whatever I could find," says Bell. "We found our way into kitchen and bath remodeling and eventually, we got a showroom and we joined the National Kitchen & Bath Assn. (NKBA). We started building a full-access, completely frameless cabinet in 1987. Frameless, at that time, was somewhat of a novelty. That's really where the first glimmers of opportunity came to be."
Pacific Crest Industries has come a long way since then, becoming a multi-million dollar company that employs more than 100 at its facility in Sumner, WA. Bell cites a positive culture as a main ingredient of his company's success.
"The beginning of quality is really culture," says Bell. "If you have a lousy culture and you tell [the employees] to go out and build a quality product, it is all just lip service. But when you start with respect and you live it and model it, then that respect is very easy to transfer over to the product that we are building. If we have any secret or magic at Pacific Crest Industries, it really comes down to culture.”
"Steve has developed a culture that we believe would be the envy of many CEOs" says John Brush, director of marketing at Pacific Crest Industries. "He often says, 'We really can change the world, one cabinet at a time.'"
An example of Bell's quest for quality is Pacific Crest Industries' recent creation of an internal program called CORE (Creating Ongoing Reliability through Excellence) to address what quality means to the company. "Quality has been our number one priority," says Brush. "But we needed more than just a statement. Steve's vision was to create an all-encompassing and measurable quality control system for all aspects of manufacturing, and CORE was born.
"We started by assessing our current standards," Brush continues. "What are the expectations of a finished set of Bellmont or Amero cabinets? They are areas such as great wood finish quality, precise machining, accurate box part alignment and more. We started with what needed to occur through all processes and within each work station that would collectively achieve these standards. There are literally thousands of minute details that have to be properly executed to meet our quality expectations, and these details are what CORE is all about. We are only a few months into the implementation of CORE, and we have already seen great results."
'To Whom Much is Given, Much is Required'
Bell is also a firm believer in helping out the less fortunate. He does so through The Bell Foundation of Hope, created by his family for charitable giving, as well as through the company's work with Agros International, a non-profit organization it supports that helps rural Central American families break the cycle of poverty through land ownership and agriculture. Pacific Crest Industries sponsors a village in El Salvador. Along with financial support, the company sends employee work teams to the village to assist families with improvement projects.
"My philosophy stems from my faith, and in the Bible it tells us, 'To whom much is given, much is required,'" says Bell. "It admonishes us to look out for those who cannot look out for themselves. It has been one of Carolyn's and my great joys and privileges as business owners to be able to put our money where our mouth is.
"We started doing it because we felt it was the right thing to do, and we were in a position where we could help," he continues. "We started making these trips down to El Salvador, and I started inviting employees. Every year we go down, and we have taken 40 or 50 of our employees down so far as well. They get to experience a third-world country, and it is life-changing. When they go down there and live in those conditions, even if it is just for a week, and build relationships with the people living in the village, they come back changed people. And it has really permeated our culture."
The Right Thing to Do
Bell and Pacific Crest are strong proponents for sustainable building practices. "I am very proud of our record in sustainable manufacturing," he says. "We were doing green manufacturing a long time before we knew there was a word for it, because it is the right thing to do. We recycle everything we can. We have higher efficiency lighting and machinery throughout the plant. We use only sustainably-managed forestry products. Every single board that we cut in this plant is CARB-compliant. We recycle our finishes. We recycle our spent solvents every night. We do not just talk the talk, we walk the walk."
Bell is also a board member and head of marketing for the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Assn. (KCMA) and was involved in the startup of the KCMA Environmental Stewardship Program, which helps cabinet manufacturers demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability and helps consumers easily identify environmentally-friendly products.
Keeping It in the Family
Bell places a strong importance on family. Pacific Crest Industries is not only family-owned, but Bell's sons are both involved in the business, Casey as a production manager and Tyler as a salesman, and Bell's daughter Loreen heads up the Bell Foundation of Hope.
"I am proud of the fact that we are still a privately-held company," Bell says. "We have had lots of inquiries over the years from companies that wanted to buy us, and they offered us a lot of money. But as a family, we have decided that we can do more to make the world a better place by keeping the business in the family than by selling it. We are committed to keeping it in the family, and we have a transition plan in place that will pass the business on to the next generation."
Bell also credits some of his personal success to experiences with family he had while growing up. "I can remember back in the 60s when I went back to Iowa and spent a summer working on my uncle's farm," he says. "I really learned how to work. It gave me a greater realization of what hard work can do. Also, I can remember my father sitting me down as a senior in high school and telling me that the only thing I could carry through my whole life was my good name, and learn to protect your name. Your word is your bond. Do what you say you are going to do."
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