A Problem for All Time

Saint-Gobain had a problem—and a very big one at that. In fact it’s a problem no primary manufacturer in North America has ever had to face, so there was no precedent and no playbook for how to handle it. And to make matters worse, the problem was time-sensitive and therefore, so was the solution.

Yes, the French building products manufacturer had a happy problem to solve. At issue: how to celebrate its 350th anniversary. In October 1665, Louis XIV signed the Letters Patent, creating the Manufacture des Glaces de Miroirs in Paris, 350 years ago this year. Few companies in existence on the globe today come close to Saint-Gobain in pedigree or longevity.

This is the company that installed the glass in such high-profile projects as the Palace of Versailles (they provided the original mirrors) and the pyramid at the Louvre, among others.

Saint-Gobain officially began operating in North America in 1967. Today, it has nearly 300 locations here, with approximately 15,000 employees and sales of approximately $6.2 billion. Today the company is a full building products one. In addition to Vetrotech and SAGE, Saint-Gobain also owns Certainteed and Solar Gard, among others.

I was fortunate enough to meet with the company’s chairman and CEO Pierre-André de Chalendar and North America’s president and CEO John Crowe and there will be more about that conversation in the next USGlass magazine. The occasion of my visit was to see firsthand how the company decided to commemorate its 350th.  The company was a major sponsor of the Future Sensations program that was set up at the Oval in Philadelphia last week and will visit three other cities before it ends up in Paris.

“Future Sensations” is a self-described immersive experience that takes visitors on a sensory journey of science, storytelling and art that celebrates the past three and a half centuries. The five pavilions offer glimpses into future innovations that Saint-Gobain says will transform the world. Philadelphia was chosen because it’s the headquarters location of Saint-Gobain in North America. It will also stop in Shanghai, China; São Paulo, Brazil; and Paris, France, of course.

It was a very impressive and classy solution to the problem of how to celebrate. The people of Philadelphia should be especially pleased to have hosted it and gotten to see it.