PORTLAND Rod Wendt, CEO and president of Klamath Falls’ famously media-averse Jeld-Wen, was in Portland in mid-July for the opening of a showroom on the second floor of the US Bancorp tower. It was 5 p.m. and several dozen people with wine glasses wandered through the window and door displays. Wendt stood to one side shaking hands with people and chatting with Ron Saxton, a Jeld-Wen senior VP and one-time Republican gubernatorial candidate.
At 54, Wendt has a shiny dome and a ring of graying hair around his head, and is tall, fit and tan. He looked relaxed for someone who’s the top executive of a $3.16 billion company (as estimated by Forbes magazine) that depends on the success of the housing industry for its survival.
The Wendt family has always kept Jeld-Wen out of the spotlight. Rod’s father, Richard, founded the company in 1960, but the nation’s business community knew little about Jeld-Wen as it grew to be one of the largest door and window manufacturers in the world. Rod graduated from Stanford and joined the company in 1980. By 1992 he was president and in 2003 took over the mantle of CEO from his father, who had held the position for 43 years.
The company’s reticence toward the media remained intact this evening. As we approached Saxton and Wendt, Saxton stepped to one side and waved over two members of the company’s PR team. Wendt appeared unfazed as the two women gently inserted themselves into the group. He continued talking candidly about the company and its plans: Expanding Jeld-Wen’s market into China and India will happen in the future, but not until there’s more consistency in building standards, he says. The company’s multiple resorts are incorporating more commercial projects as a way to offset the down real estate market. Jeld-Wen also is increasing its commercial work as a way to buoy its lagging residential window and door manufacturing.
Wendt was both relaxed and pragmatic as he talked. At one point he used the word “terrible” when describing the state of the real estate market. “I could have used a different word, but I don’t use words like that,” he said, leaning forward and raising his eyebrows.
Three minutes after the conversation began, it was over. What had been essentially idle chatter felt like a journalistic triumph. After handshakes with the men, we joined the crowd as it wandered around, looking through windows and doors that opened onto showroom walls.
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