Jeannette Specialty Glass weathers market storms with the right people


President and CEO Kathleen Sarniak-Tanzola added what some call a mom’s touch to Jeannette Specialty Glass.

Her rules are simple: Play nice. Walk with a purpose. 24-hour response. Why, why, why. Pick up after yourself. Get organized.

You have to know your core values and make sure all employees can repeat them, she says. Put them in terms everyone understands; don’t try to get fancy.

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in your core values, I don’t care how competent they are — I hate to use this word, but — they are poison,” Sarniak-Tanzola says. “Get rid of them.”

JSG has survived in what was once known as the glass capital, but it hasn’t been easy. The construction downturn hurt subsidiary JSG Oceana, which produces glass sinks and tiles, and the rise of LED lighting shattered the demand for borosilicate glass.

Sarniak-Tanzola says she’ll never forget when there was nothing in the pipeline in 2013.

“You have to react. We laid people off. We got lean and mean — and even leaner, even meaner,” she says.

With a tank that melts glass 24/7, you have to feed it, she says, and the way to do that is diversification. JSG makes glass, so it can’t make glass for just one industry.

Grow into your role

Sarniak-Tanzola didn’t expect to lead the company her husband bought in 1976. She spent 20-plus years in sales and marketing for the cosmetic and fragrance industry.

In 2004, Sarniak-Tanzola came on board to launch JSG Oceana. Within a year, with experience as a turnaround expert, she became COO.

The sales and marketing pieces came naturally. The challenge was manufacturing.

“I spent five years, or maybe a little more, and I literally worked production,” she says. “I was on the floor. I did a month stint on almost every job, just so I would understand all the different aspects of manufacturing.”

Sarniak-Tanzola joined groups and went to seminars to learn.

“I’ve evolved from a student to a collaborator and now to a leader in the manufacturing processes, especially in continuous improvement,” she says.

When her husband died in 2012, she took over the company.

“Everyone around me was giving me the advice to sell the company,” Sarniak-Tanzola says. “‘You’ve only been there for so many years; he’s been there forever.’ ‘This is difficult to do.’ ‘You’re a woman.’”

They didn’t realize Sarniak-Tanzola was running the daily business.

“Had it been a total transition, where I was never in the company, I was still in cosmetics, I would have sold,” she says. “I consider that God’s blessing, that I came into the business and I truly feel that things happen for a reason.”

Future plans

When Sarniak-Tanzola joined JSG, it had no succession plans and the key players were 50-plus. Coming from large corporations that looked to the future, she knew that had to change.