For many entrepreneurs, the road to business success is paved with creative solutions and clever marketing. As a young entrepreneur, Don Wood discovered that creativity through sales techniques could open the doors to success. At the age of 58 he pushed the entrepreneurial doors open even wider when he started his own company, 80/20, Inc.
“I had an idea for a revolutionary frame system that didn’t require welding. But the company I was working for gave me every reason it couldn’t be done,” says Don Wood, President and CEO of 80/20, Inc. “I knew it was the right product, and like every entrepreneur, I was seeing beyond the obvious. I knew I could build a company with my idea. I was ready to take the risk.”
A journeyman toolmaker, Wood attended Drake University after military service. He got married, took a job and spent a number of years in hands-on work. Then, he moved into the corporate world and was consumed with decision-making, traveling and managing others. He was named president of that company before he was 40 years old.
Through it all, Wood says he had been thinking about the idea for the 80/20 innovative components. In 1989 he began documenting his business plan, first outlining it on a restaurant placemat. Then, in 1990, he opened 80/20, Inc. in 2,000 square feet of space in the Fort Wayne Enterprise Center. He had three employees and an 8-page black-and-white catalog.
In the company’s first year, sales reached nearly $2.5 million. Today, 80/20 and its “industrial erector set” products fill 235,000 square feet of space in Columbia City. Gross sales of this adaptable system of aluminum extruded T-slotted framing, connectors, hinges, rollers and other components top $100 million.
80/20 products are sold through a territorial distribution network, and 120 vans take sales people and products to customers. To satisfy the needs of its more than 75,000 customers, the company employs 320 people.
During the past 22 years, 80/20’s growth and expansions have been self-funded from profits. It wasn’t always easy, however, and Wood is quick to say that growing a successful company requires an extensive commitment.
He compares the commitment to the “law of the harvest. I planted the seed of my idea, I’ve fed it and I’ve watched it grow. Yes, it was risky, but it has also been, and continues to be, fun.”
Wood firmly believes you “can’t place conditions on your dream. You have to be committed to it and have an unconditional relationship with your goal.”
Local connections are important to Wood, who says most of the company’s employees are from the community. He believes in hiring good people and depending on them to do well, with as many training opportunities as possible.
Wood also strives to inspire others as they work toward their dreams because, he says, “these opportunities are available to anyone.” In addition to employee training programs, co-op students from local high schools are able to work at 80/20 to build real-world experience. A training center is also in the planning stages for the company’s 38-acre property.
Being a leader is always challenging, Wood says, which is why he “studies good leaders. I have read their books and listened to their motivational tapes, because they have the same hopes, desires and fears we all have.”
In furthering his commitment to giving back to others, Wood “established a foundation to give back to others the wealth I have spent a lifetime accumulating.” Reaching out into the community, Wood is recognized for supporting others. In 2008 he became Innovation Champion in the Go Whitley! Accelerating Innovation program. He is active in his church, and he serves on the Fort Wayne Philharmonic board. Wood is also a regional board member for Ivy Tech Community College, and he has been named an Ivy Tech Contributor of the Year.