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updated: 6/23/2020 2:34 PM

How Elkay helps Habitat for Humanity achieve its goals

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  • Ric Phillips, [resident & CEO of Elkay Manufacturing

    Ric Phillips, [resident & CEO of Elkay Manufacturing


An interview with Ric Phillips, President & CEO of Elkay Manufacturing Company in Downers Grove.

Q: Tell us a little bit about Elkay.

A: What makes Elkay special is our people and our culture. Many companies have core values that they have put into place, but we believe that few companies embrace and live their values quite as Elkay does.

One of Elkay's core values is "We are in Business Forever" -- we all have the responsibility to leave the business stronger than when we started. Our commitment to innovation, sustainability, and giving back to our community are ways that we live up to this lofty goal. Our innovative water delivery products have helped keep over 20-billion plastic bottles out of landfills. Over the past decade, Elkay and our employees have donated over $3.8-million to the communities where we work and live. Utilizing paid volunteer time off, Elkay employees have spent countless thousands of hours serving their communities. Our conservation and sustainability efforts reflect our concern for the future and our commitment to building a better world.

When we say "Our Strength is in Our People," we recognize that Elkay's employees are at the heart of everything we have ever accomplished. I would be remiss not to mention our profound gratitude for every one of our people through the years that have been a part of making Elkay what it is today.

Q: Explain the history of the company.

A: Elkay is celebrating our 100th anniversary this year! The company was founded in Chicago, IL, by a father and son team named Leopold and Louis Katz. They aimed to provide high-quality sinks and flawless customer service to residential customers in the then rapidly expanding North and West Sides of Chicago. Over the years we experienced many 'firsts:' We were the first to mass-produce stainless steel sinks; the first to achieve nationwide distribution through plumbing sales representatives and wholesalers, and the first to develop a hands-free bottle filler to provide fast, free access to fresh filtered water and help eliminate the buildup of single-use plastic bottles in our environment. Still privately-held by the original founding family, today Elkay, based in Downers Grove, IL, is an international enterprise that employs over 2,350 people and has expanded its product lines and global footprint significantly.

Q: What are some of Elkay's services?

A: While proud to be America's No. 1 selling kitchen sink company, Elkay expanded our commercial offerings more than four decades ago. Today we also offer faucets, water coolers, drinking fountains, the award-winning ezH2O bottle filling stations, and Smartwell, our beverage system that provides smooth or sparkling refreshment in a variety of natural flavors, to name a few. Our Elkay Interior Systems business is a global leader in the design and build out of branded environments for leading global brands such as McDonald's, Starbucks, and Marriott. Elkay Commercial Systems provides stainless steel products for commercial kitchens around the globe.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your personal history.

A: From a career standpoint, I joined Elkay as CEO late last year. Most recent to that role, I served as president and CEO at Essendant, a Fortune 500 business products distributor based north of Chicago. Before that, I spent several years at McKinsey & Company as a partner in Chicago. It was at McKinsey that I first got involved in Habitat for Humanity. Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity was established to provide further support to the affiliates in the Chicagoland area. At that time, I helped lead a pro-bono project to develop the organization's original strategy and structure, and I joined the Board in 2012. I have always been inspired by the approach and impact of Habitat globally. Partnering with Habitat families to provide a decent place to live has so many benefits to individuals and families that help them to reach their potential in life. I am proud to have to be involved in Habitat and look forward to the continued journey.

Q: How is Elkay involved with Habitat for Humanity? Why?

A: Elkay has been closely aligned with Habitat for Humanity for many years. Because Habitat is in the building industry, and Elkay products serve the building industry, the partnership is a natural alliance. We regularly donate products to habitat building projects, and much of our excess and obsolete inventory goes to support Habitat ReStore. Habitat is also a vital part of our companywide annual employee giving campaign, ELKAYcares, and employees across the company regularly use paid volunteer-time-off to participate in Habitat build days. Having personally been involved with the Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity board for so many years, I was pleased to learn upon joining Elkay last October that the company has several employees who are similarly engaged in Habitat board and junior board roles.

Q: What are people in your industry talking about? What's trending?

A: We are certainly thinking about what long-term changes may result from our current health concerns as a result of COVID-19, and exploring how we can play a helpful role. For example, we see an even greater need for hands-free appliances and access to clean drinking water, and more focus on residential home remodels as people spend more time at home. In our commercial and interiors business, we are working with major brands on what the restaurant of the future might look like in response to new safety needs.

Q: Tell us one interesting fact about Elkay that most people may not know.

A: As I mentioned earlier, Elkay was the first company to mass-produce stainless steel sinks. When we were first founded, and throughout our first several decades, Elkay sinks were handcrafted -- at first from a soft metal called German Silver -- and later from a metal called Monel. Shortly after World War II, the company took a leap of faith and invested what was then a considerable fortune on our first hydraulic press. The investment resulted in an exponential change in how quickly we could manufacture sinks. This shift just so happened to coincide with a nationwide housing boom, as American GIs returned stateside, married their sweethearts. This perfect storm was the engine behind Elkay's growth and success through the middle part of the last century.

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: I spend most of my social media time on LinkedIn, which I have found to help find former colleagues and connect with new ones. As a general rule, more broadly, I seek out voices and sources -- in books, and on social media -- that are thought-provoking and inspirational. One of those voices is Matthew Kelly, author of "The Rhythm of Life," who I find to be an inspirational voice on leadership, personal development, and faith.