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Joe O'Connor of Mohawk on Transforming a Four Generation Business

Published on August 2, 2012

Cary Sherburne speaks with Joe O'Connor, Mohawk's Senior VP of International Sales on the history of the company and how they've transformed a four generation company in the modern digital age.

Cary Sherburne: Hi, I’m Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at What They Think. And I’m here with Joe O’Connor who’s the Senior Vice President of International Sales for Mohawk, welcome.

Joe O’Connor: Thank you Cary very much, nice to be here.

Cary Sherburne: And you guys family owned business. You’re the third generation. I had the pleasure of knowing your father. I didn’t get to meet your grandfather, unfortunately, but I hear that Harvard really says that the third generation is the most likely to mess up a family business.

Joe O’Connor: Yeah we have an 11 percent chance of surviving the generation.

Cary Sherburne: But you’re going to break that mold?

Joe O’Connor: We’re going to try to break that mold. We have a lot of people depending on us for that, and we’ve put the fourth generation in there now too. So my nephew, Tommy, is part of that fourth generation, so we’ll see.

Cary Sherburne: That’s great, and I’ve met him too.

Joe O’Connor: Mm-hmm.

Cary Sherburne: So you work—you’ve got brothers that are in the business too.

Joe O’Connor: I do, three brothers. My brother, Tom, is our Chairman and CEO. And then three others and we all have very distinct responsibilities within the company. I am responsible for our international sales. And we now exist in about 62-63 countries around the world.

Cary Sherburne: Great, great.

Joe O’Connor: So we’re expanding outside of North America pretty aggressively.

Cary Sherburne: And Mohawk has really gone through a pretty significant transformation. I mean, obviously the printing industry itself is undergoing transformation. And we see a lot of that happening with the printers, the commercial printers. Also with the equipment suppliers, so the industry—I’m not sure that I’ve seen a lot of transformational activity in the paper industry. But I think you guys are an interesting model for that. So talk a little bit about what you’re doing with the business.

Joe O’Connor: Yeah, I mean, we’re certainly trying to do it. We have a new identity out, which was new for us. And—

Cary Sherburne: And the word paper’s not in it.

Joe O’Connor: And the word fine paper is not in it, so it’s just Mohawk, and that’s the brand right there.

Cary Sherburne: Oh there you go, yeah.

Joe O’Connor: So it’s kind of new and hip. And it’s a lot more about than just the brand. We do a lot of things as a collaborative partner with our customers, and users, designers, agencies. And, you know, we talk about communication solutions more than we just do about our product. We have very robust e-commerce platforms and they continue to grow as well. So we want to make our paper available to everybody anywhere when they want it. We’re making our own envelopes. We’re a consultant to the industry. We have, in our website, a portal that’s called MohawkMakeReady.com. And that’s kind of advice and—for all the channels within the industry that we serve.

Cary Sherburne: Educational videos and blogs and everything, yeah.

Joe O’Connor: Yeah, which is updated. We’re really spending a lot of time and have a department of people just handling the social media side of things. We’re looking at a company where the skillset needs to change for everybody. There’s a lot of young people. I mean, that department, nobody’s over 23-years-old. We pretend to get it, but I think we’re actually getting it. So a lot of change for Mohawk, first and foremost we’re a paper manufacturer, but we do a lot of other things.

Cary Sherburne: Well you’ve got a lot of software solutions.

Joe O’Connor: We do. We bought a software company that kind of feeds the photography business, both professional and semi-professional. And so we’re trying to control more ports of the channel a little bit, and the software, and the paper, and we have a consumer-facing site called Pinhole Press where we provide the software, provide the products, and that’s been a very difficult market, or is a difficult market to kind of succeed in. But in a very short period of time, Pinhole Press has really gathered a big following.

Cary Sherburne: Well we’ll be interested in continuing to follow the transformation, because it certainly isn’t a one-time thing.

Joe O’Connor: No, I mean, you know, we’re—our industry is in a state of change.

Cary Sherburne: Yeah.

Joe O’Connor: And we change to the day, not to the month or year. So it’s a very entrepreneurial spirit. Something my father built, and really my brother Tom has brought us along a long ways. And we’re excited about the future. I don’t think a lot of people are. I think they’re concerned about it, but we’re actually very excited.

Cary Sherburne: That’s great. We’ll stay in touch and see what’s happening as we go forward.

Joe O’Connor: Great, thanks Cary very much.

Cary Sherburne: Thanks.

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