THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo
If you happen to see Richard Reynolds sitting in a restaurant, holding his glass at head-height and peering through the bottom, don’t worry — he hasn’t located a fly.
“People ask what I’m doing,” Mr. Reynolds said. “‘Is there something wrong with the glass?’ No, no, it’s the right glass. [Or] ‘yeah, there’s something wrong with the glass! It’s not ours!’”
“Ours” would mean that of Libbey Inc., the company with which Mr. Reynolds has spent his entire career. The most senior member of Libbey’s team, and the only remaining board member from the company’s 1993 spin-off from Owens-Illinois Inc., Mr. Reynolds will retire at the end of this month after nearly 44 years.
He came to the company out of the University of Cincinnati as a comptroller trainee. Over the decades he oversaw a factory production shift in Toledo, moved into production planning and distribution, was tapped as Libbey’s first chief financial officer, and later served as its first chief operations officer.
Currently Mr. Reynolds mentors employees and does long-term strategy planning.
It used to be spending a career with a company was common. In today’s corporate world, that’s not the case, said Stephanie Streeter, Libbey’s chief executive officer.
“Not someone who has started where he started, ended where he ended, has a fairly encyclopedic memory about all of it, and is willing to share so freely,” she said. “Those are the things that are really uncommon. He’s a special guy.”
Mr. Reynolds would likely smile but wave that praise away. He stayed because he was happy.
“As I look back over my career, every job I had was fun. Why would I leave? There was no reason to,” he said recently while sitting down to discuss his career.
Mr. Reynolds’ longevity at Libbey is currently rivaled only by Robert Zollweg, who has long been the company’s creative director and has been with Libbey just a few months fewer than Mr. Reynolds.
Always working within Libbey’s design field, Mr. Zollweg has also led the company’s packaging department and art department.
“I love this product,” he said. “If I worked for a washing machine company [and] did the fan belts, no one knows that. But people can drink out of my wine glasses. They can eat off my plates. When I put together a collection of product, it changes their life in a way.”
Being on different sides of the company’s operations, the two men have seldom worked together directly. But Lisa Fell, Libbey’s director of corporate communications, said they’re still a team of sorts.
“If I want to know something about a glass we produced in 1930, Robert will tell me what it is and why we did it, and Dick will tell me how we did it,” she said. “Together they make us who we are.”
Mr. Reynolds spent only nine months managing hourly employees in the plant, but as someone whose background was in finance, it was invaluable.
“It gave me a different perspective from a standpoint of how can finance help create value, rather than just report on value,” he said. “Most financial people were what I call obituary writers. This is what happened last month, last quarter.”
Ms. Streeter said Mr. Reynolds’ perspective, knowledge, and understanding of the company have proved valuable since she took over as Libbey’s second-ever chief executive in 2011.
“He makes connections on things that literally nobody else thinks about. That’s what will be the most difficult to replace,” she said. “That’s an innate ability. You can get the knowledge sets from other people, but that ability to connect the dots is what we’ll miss most.”
A lot happened within both the company and the industry during Mr. Reynolds’ time there. When he started, most of the company’s competitors were based in the United States. Now Libbey has few domestic rivals but a growing number of international ones.
But the biggest change was Libbey becoming its own firm. Mr. Reynolds believes the spin-off from Owens-Illinois allowed the company to grow.
“We would not have had those opportunities, in my opinion, if we were still part of Owens-Illinois,” he said.
Aside from that spin-off, he sees Libbey’s purchase of Crisa in Mexico as perhaps the best decision the company has made to move the business forward.
Libbey bought assistance from the Mexican company to help develop pressware at its Louisiana plant and later competed with it. As it became clear Crisa was likely to be sold, Libbey bought a significant interest, and obtained full ownership in 2006.
“To me, it’s been a great story about how we’ve been connected for a long time and now we’re truly all one,” Mr. Reynolds said.
Mr. Reynolds’ retirement is effective Nov. 30, though he’ll serve on the board through May.
Though he’s looking forward to retirement and traveling with his wife of 46 years, he’s still passionate about glass and the process by which it’s made.
“From the first day I saw it, it was like, ‘Man this is fire and brimstone. I’m walking back into ancient times.’ And you are, because it’s a very old industry, but at the same time when you think about the technology and the commitment of engineers and production specialists and people to make it go,” he said, “it’s phenomenal, and it is very exciting.”
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at email@example.com or 419-724-6134.