Drew Greenblatt ’88 (history, political science), owner of Marlin Steel Wire Products, turned an aging bagel factory into a state-of-the-art steel manufacturer, and in the process he’s become the voice of a U.S. manufacturing renaissance.
How did Dickinson prepare you for your current career/endeavor?
Dickinson taught me how to write and assimilate vast amounts of information effectively. Crafting emails, brochures, websites and writing a column for Inc. magazine all draw from my days writing for history and political science professors in Denny Hall. Reading challenging books (no Google or Internet then) from multiple and varied sources helped me interpret divergent views and allowed me the platform to create a coherent, thoughtful approach when I talked with my professors then or now with presidents and senators advocating for the U.S. manufacturing renaissance. Dickinson was critical in bolstering skills that I would use every day to be a success.
“You do not want to be the smartest person in the room. Focus on hiring extraordinary people and nurture them, because they will take you to the next level.”
What was your "aha" moment?
My first job out of college was a disaster. I was working in a bank and was miserable. If you’ve seen Steve Carrell in The Office, you get a sense of what I was up against. I realized I made a mistake and pivoted. I knew that I could not work in a risk-averse, stifling environment. I wanted to take chances and swing for huge opportunities.
What inspires you?
I am passionate about U.S. manufacturing. It creates a strong middle class and is the way to pull people from poverty. Hiring great talent, giving them tools to be effective and getting out of their way so they can be a success. Superb people make fabulous companies. Picking the right people is the most important task I perform. Because of my great team, we have grown Marlin Steel eightfold. In 1998, when I bought the company, we were straight out of a Charles Dickens novel in terms of robotics and employee relations. When I first bought Marlin, my employees did not own cars or homes, and their health insurance plan was to go to the emergency room at the local hospital. Fast forward 18 years—now they all own cars, more than half own homes and they are paid on average five times more, with great health insurance.
What advice would you offer to the entrepreneurs of tomorrow?
You do not want to be the smartest person in the room. Focus on hiring extraordinary people and nurture them, because they will take you to the next level. Pay them well. Lavish them with the tools they need to excel. Always be transparent with your employees, clients, bank, investors and vendors. It is a rare trait, and people will give you more latitude when you have eventual setbacks. Find niches where you can provide extraordinary differentiation. If you can’t be different, you should find another niche. Sell the best quality. In our case, 20 percent of our employees have degrees as mechanical engineers, so we sell the best quality and the best engineering in the industry. Never sell at lowest price. It is very ugly to sell commodities—you can never differentiate yourself, and you will ultimately lose to a lower priced provider (who will go out of business soon).
Grow, grow, grow.
“Reading challenging books (no Google or Internet then) from varied sources helped me interpret divergent views and allowed me the platform to create a coherent thoughtful approach when I talked with my professors then or with presidents and senators now.”
Published April 12, 2016