Trial by fire Featured

1:35pm EDT June 19, 2003
You would never guess that John Beckett's beginnings as a business owner were more of a trial by fire than a case study of entrepreneurship.

"I was not equipped for the type of challenges for operating a business," says Beckett, the second-generation chairman and CEO of R.W. Beckett Corp. who took over the business after his father died. "It was a trial by fire, literally. Four months after my father died, we had a fire that almost destroyed the business."

But Beckett prevailed, and took over the oil burner manufacturer in 1965, growing it from $1 million in sales and 12 employees to three companies today with sales of more than $100 million and nearly 600 employees.

R.W. Beckett commands approximately 75 percent of the North American market -- about 12 million homes -- which was once split among several hundred manufacturers.

"It's a very gradually decreasing base, which is not inconsequential," says Beckett, a successful business owner, published author and speaker. "That's why we began diversifying our programs about 15 years ago."

The company began diversification in the early 1980s, but was not always successful, and a few ventures falling flat.

"We wanted to and tried to bring diversity to our core business," he says, which they with Beckett Air, a blower wheel manufacturer, and Beckett Gas, a gas appliance manufacturer, both founded in 1988. "But the real breakthrough came when we set them up as separate companies with their own management and board of directors. The key was that each company had to make it on their own."

Now Beckett and his staff are aggressively searching for new ideas and products that are aligned with the markets they already serve. One venture is a low-emissions heating device.

"We are trying to cut nitrous oxide emission in half," says Beckett. "We feel the future of the company and industry depends on having combustible technology that is every bit as clean and good as natural gas, and we have invested in that new technology."

Sustainability is a driving force for Beckett. Faith is another. And he attempts to link his faith and work together in his companies.

"We have three values that we live by," says Beckett. "The three values are integrity, excellence and profound respect for the individual. Other companies have similar values, but we are meeting the challenge of embedding those values in our organization." How to reach: R.W. Beckett: (440) 353-6203 or