Fulfilling a Lifelong Dream of Entrepreneurship in Manufacturing
From a young age, Jennifer Baur dreamed of one day owning her own manufacturing business. She wasn’t sure what, where, when or how, but the fire to produce something tangible burned within her, as it does with so many in this industry.
Knowing that financial skills would be helpful in any corporate venture, she earned a degree in accounting and took a job as a senior tax accountant at Arthur Andersen LLP; a few years later, she left to open her own firm. She’d come halfway to her dream, she said, in that she owned her own business, yet it still wasn’t enough—she wanted to make a product, something she could touch and feel. That’s when the opportunity she’d long been waiting for arrived.
“We kind of stumbled on to it,” she said. “There was this small shutter company in Houston that was about to go out of business. That’s when I recruited Mike, an engineer and someone who knows a lot about woodworking, to be my partner in this adventure.”
Mike Blackburn is her long-time friend, one-time brother-in-law, and now co-owner of the business they’ve shared for more than 20 years. Together they took the struggling shutter company and built it into Rockwood Shutters, a 350-employee strong manufacturer of shutters, barn doors and window treatments, with distribution and service throughout the U.S.
“We took what was basically a Mom and Pop shop and infused it with new ways of manufacturing, with the goal of making shutters better than anyone else. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years.”
Blackburn shares in his business partner’s passion for manufacturing and entrepreneurship. “My father and grandfather were both into woodworking, and my dad owned his own business, so I knew all along that I wanted to work for myself at some point,” he said.
The 15-year-old shutter company was admittedly a “fixer-upper” when they assumed ownership, but it had a good reputation and was just the right opportunity, Blackburn said. “We took what was basically a Mom and Pop shop and infused it with new ways of manufacturing, with the goal of making shutters better than anyone else. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years.”
Baur and Blackburn both vowed early on to keep Rockwood as “non-corporate” as possible, offering employees a rewarding and enjoyable place to work. Aside from a relaxed dress code, it’s not unusual to see a soccer game or multiple food trucks at one of the company luncheons. Everyone is encouraged to work hard, be passionate about what they do, and above all, have fun.
This among other reasons is why Baur recently received the Most Admired CEO Award from the Houston Business Journal, why she was a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year, and why the Houston Chronicle named Rockwood a top workplace among midsize companies two years running. “The employees nominate and vote on that award, so we’re pretty proud of it,” she said. “We’re hoping to make the cut again this year.”
Baur is also a board member of the national nonprofit corporation Lemonade Day, which promotes entrepreneurship in youths through the process of operating their own lemonade stand, and volunteers with groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Together We Rise.
When asked what’s next for her, Blackburn and the Rockwood team, Baur’s response was about what you’d expect from this accountant turned manufacturing titan. “We’ve never approached shutter manufacturing in the same way as our competitors, so we’re a bit disruptive in that respect,” she said. “Maybe that will wind up changing how the industry works. In the meantime, it feels like there's more work to be done and more growth to be had, so we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We might not take ourselves too seriously, but we're very serious about what we do.”