There’s a certain contradiction I have become aware of since starting to write this blog post about the history of Xylem Design, Pedestal Source and it’s CEO and founder Greg Glebe. He’s completely not into “self-gloss”. His level of uncomfortable-ness is as apparent as his disdain for the concept of hero worship in our culture today. Yet to understand the company, you must understand the story of Greg and what makes him get up in the morning. Without trying to make Greg into the hero he doesn’t want to be, let’s look at one of Greg’s highest values: “leaving your ego at the door”. So let’s leave that ego at the door and step inside the Xylem Design shop here in Fort Collins, CO. One thing is inescapable when you walk in that door and that’s this: There is a vibe. It’s not necessarily uber-cool, and certainly not swanky, snarky, or hipster deluxe, and definitely not egoic. I’m talking about the vibe that comes as a result of a person’s personality. That person is Greg Glebe. It’s apparent this company has taken on his personality. That personality? One of confidence, humor, creativity, humility and most important – service. This certainly comes as no surprise, especially given information like this article in the Phoenix New Times archives some 20 years ago. Make no mistake, Greg is CEO of a for profit business today. But it’s a business that is trying to do more than make that profit. It’s trying to make an impact on people’s lives. The lives of the customers, employees and vendors. What compels a person to help someone without any tremendous gain for themselves; to look around and say, “Nobody’s doing anything for that person, I’m gonna do it”? A look into Greg’s upbringing may help to explain.
Long before the first easel or pedestal came off the assembly line, Greg was being brought up by a unique confluence of parental traits in suburban Philadelphia. His mother – artistic, humble, very spiritual and practically a saint by all accounts; and his father, innovative, creative and a renaissance man of sorts. Both intelligent, caring individuals that were known as a safe haven for people in their community. Anyone looking for wisdom, advice or even just someone to lend an ear could come to the Glebe household anytime. “[My upbringing] is the underpinning of why I get up in the morning,” says Greg. “It’s not all about making the almighty buck.” Perhaps this intersection of creativity, hard work and innovation along with being well grounded is what provided the foundation for what was to come in Greg’s life.
With that picture of his early life in mind, it’s easy to see how Greg was already doing woodworking by the time he was in the 7th grade. With constant access to his father’s shop filled with machines that would soon become his tools not to mention his muse in some way, Greg quickly developed a taste for designing and to go with it, the skills to bring his designs to life. These skills afforded him the opportunity to transition into construction and carpentry jobs throughout his teens. At 18, he found himself headed west to Washington state; falling in love with the town of Fort Collins, Colorado along the way; the city to which he would one day return. A few years later in his early twenties, he would find himself in the art gallery business, where he would create the product that became the flagship for Xylem Design for many years: The Bi-fold Easel.
Greg was once called a “hyperactive-genius” and admittedly, is not your classic CEO. He loves inventing and getting his hands dirty. You can see that what makes him tick is more than the skill of a tradesman, and the inventiveness of a designer, both of which he possesses ample amounts. It’s really where those two things intersect with compassion and service. He sums it up this way: “All the stuff that we do here in the world is about becoming better people. Becoming better people involves doing what you love to do and then finding where it intersects with serving people. If you’re good at something, master it, then find a way to make a living doing it. Hopefully master something that you love. If you’re doing it right – it feels right.” So as you can see, making easels and art pedestals is our business, but making a broader impact in people’s lives is our work. Stay tuned for part II of our series in a few weeks as we look at the early days of Xylem design.