Oatey: 100 Years of Service

Profile of a family-owned company, 100 years strong.

The year is 1916. The international climate is in turmoil yet there is still growth in the United States as new businesses continue to emerge through a challenging economy. In Cleveland, L. R. Oatey establishes Oatey Company with just one product — a vent stack flashing.

“It’s one thing to be 100 years old; the challenge is to build on top of what the group before has accomplished, and I think we have done an extremely good job of that,” remarks CEO John McMillan. Oatey has consistently delivered value in the form of quality, service and strong brands. Oatey has deep, sound relationships with all of the wholesalers in our industry, and it has built a level of trust with them that has enabled the company to be more successful.

Oatey thrives on  performance. It invests in people who can constantly improve the value proposition and maintain a strong positioning in the market; its strong market share in itssuccess over 100 years is largely attributable to that. 

“You always hear that people make the difference, but it couldn’t be more true than it is here at Oatey,” remarks Executive Chairman Gary Oatey. Being a privately-held company, Oatey likes to keep a low profile in terms of disclosing information. But in celebration of this most momentous occasion, it is lifting the proverbial curtain back a little bit to share the excitement. 

Over the years, companies reach a point where they either move on with the times and prosper or remain stagnant and decay. Oatey has reinvented itself to not only stay ahead of the times but also to become an influencer of change. It has, like many companies, reorganized and re-strategized to fit the needs of customers and employees. As McMillan further explains, “…we have tweaked and tuned along the way as well. I think those were turning points [to success] because after certain changes were put in place, we really were able to grow rapidly and sustainably.” 

Oatey has listened carefully to its customers, employees and community at large. As Gary Oatey also explains, the company has tried to align its objectives with those of its customers, and this is attributable to the entire wholesale community. In Oatey's case, it listened to what the customers’ needs were, installation problems they were having in the field and made sure these needs and problems were aligned to solutions.

“The life blood of the business is to grow both organically with new products as well as by acquisition, and we have been successful on both fronts,” McMillan says.

Breaking new ground

Oatey’s new customer support center and main office is set to open on October 11. The larger building combines associates from three locations into one for improved collaboration, innovation and efficiency to better serve customers, who are international. Oatey’s performance requirement continues to define this success. 

“We couldn’t find anything that really  achieved our objectives, so we decided to build,” McMillan says. “We interviewed a number of designers and chose one and went on from there.” 

The key component to these transitions was to give Oatey associates a place where they could be productive and to deliver more value to customers. 

Family legacy

Another essential component to ensuring not only a successful office move but a successful company move is the strong family legacy at Oatey. McMillan explains that when he first started at the company, he was impressed that although this is a private and family-owned business, it was always run like a much larger organization. It’s had solid professional advice. 

“We’ve always had a free-thinking, outside board of directors,” he says. “I think that encourages associates to make contributions that the organization needs to succeed.” 

That type of atmosphere certainly lends itself to maintaining a strong family legacy for the company. Oatey Company believes the sky’s the limit on what it can accomplish. 

Before joining Oatey Company, Oatey worked for Proctor & Gamble and McMillan worked for Otis Worldwide — both large public companies. This proved to be a great training ground for them to formulate some of the boundaries that they felt were important and to begin to grow the business a little differently than their predecessors. 

“All the old role-playing and the tedious training are lessons that I still find myself falling back on today,” McMillan recounts.  

They also feel they’ve made a good start at the right type of influence on the fourth generation. Should fourth generation members be interested in leadership positions at the company, the opportunity may be available as the company continues to grow. 

“They’re learning the business now,” Oatey says. 

Spending most of their time with customers, making recommendations and looking at the ways Oatey Company can change to keep pace with what’s happening in the market place both from a new product point of view as well as from an operating point of view. 

“We’re really addressing the needs of customers or trying to add value by solving problems … I’m very excited about how we can continue to grow,” Oatey says. 

As it breaks into a coveted club of 100 years of service in the industry, the future has never looked brighter for Oatey Company.

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