By Jack Lawson, President/CEO
Five years ago, I wrote a similar post to this entitled “Time Flies” and was really proud of that title because it was so accurate. But I think this one is even better.
On March 8th, Catalyst celebrated 20 years in business. I was up early that day, and I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror marveling at how I had not changed at all in 20 years…actually, I was wondering who the old guy was looking back and why he was wearing my pajamas. A lot greyer and less hair, but there are way more smile lines from laughing than brow wrinkles from frowning, which I think says something. We’ve all heard the saying that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. It is absolutely true. To this day I am still awed at the technology our clients ask us to help them with, amazed at the creativity that flows out of our associates, and can still feel a rush by seeing products that we worked on out in the marketplace. Best feeling ever.
THE CATALYST BUSINESS MODEL: HOLISTIC CREATIVE DESIGN & PLASTIC PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
When Dennis and I started Catalyst back in 1999, we had extensive backgrounds in corporate management, product design, and engineering but had always worked for others. We had absolutely, positively no clue what starting a business from zero really entailed. We were definitely a little naïve and a lot underfunded. But we had a killer plan for a business model that was truly unique, and we wanted to start a company that people enjoyed working at. We also decided early on that we wanted to have some fun and be able to wear jeans and sandals if we wanted. We had no idea if that was a good formula for success or not, but Catalyst has grown exponentially over the past 20 years so we must have been onto something special. And, while we probably made countless bad decisions over the years, the one thing we got absolutely, positively right was we hired great people—an incredible team of creative, driven, dedicated individuals that I would put up against any product development team in the world. Many of them have been with us from the early beginning, and they make the magic happen. They are the catalysts that make Catalyst work every second of every day.
Yet, while our growth may be partially the result of a good business idea and a fantastic team of people, none of it would have happened without our clients. Many of them have been partnering with us from the very beginning which I believe shows Catalyst’s commitment to mutual success. In the past 20 years we have seen great changes in business operations as the world has become a connected global economy—and occasionally one hears grumblings that the US is losing its competitive edge in innovation. I am here to tell you that is complete bunk. We work with thousands of companies, both big and small, and American creativity and innovation is not going backward—but forward, increasing at an increasing rate. We are forever amazed at the incredible intellectual property our clients are working with and humbled that they give Catalyst the privilege of assisting in its development.
REALITY DRIVEN DESIGN THAT OFTEN HAS FAR-REACHING BENEFITS
In fact, as I think back over two decades, I can remember almost every one of the projects we worked on. It’s not because I have total recall, but because each product was distinctly different and interesting in its own way. From the entrepreneurs who simply wanted to see their dreams realized to the Fortune 100 companies that needed development support to meet a deadline—they all hold a place in my memory (which thankfully means I am not totally senile). In fact, one of the great benefits we didn’t even realize when we started Catalyst was that no two projects or clients were ever the same—every project is a fresh start with a new set of challenges and opportunities. It keeps life interesting and people passionate about what they are doing.
It occurred to me recently that what we do at Catalyst often has more far-reaching effects even after a project is considered complete. I was in a checkout line not long ago and noticed a young woman behind me who had 3 car seats we had designed a few years back. Jokingly, I asked her “Triplets?” She went on to tell me that they had recently been in an auto accident, a very bad one, and the state trooper on the scene told her that the car seat—the very one that Catalyst had designed—had probably saved her daughter from injury or worse. So, she was out buying new models for both of their cars and her mother’s vehicle. This made me think of all the products we have helped bring to reality over the past 20 years. The countless consumer goods that literally millions of people use every day, the medical products that help people live and feel better, the tools that make jobs easier, the baby products that transport the most precious of cargo, the jobs created for those who make and sell the products, and on and on. Without a doubt, most of the credit goes to our client’s who have the resources and commitment to produce and distribute these great products–but I like to think Catalyst played an important role with quick, creative design and development.
CATALYST HAS CONTINUED TO GROW AND OFFER CUTTING EDGE DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT SERVICES
20 years ago, Dennis and I were sitting in an attorney’s office staring nervously at each other. My kids were 2, 4, and 6 and Dennis and his wife were expecting their first child. We were both the primary earners for our families. Yet, there we were trying to show no fear and drafting the Catalyst corporate charter. That was all that existed of the company on that day—no people, no clients, no buildings, no computers, no software, no machinery—just 8 pages of paper. As I walk through our facility now, and see the brainstorming rooms filled with groups working on projects, watch prototypes being made in the lab, hear machining centers cutting tools, smell plastic parts being molded, see associates rushing past, I try to remember what I might have been envisioning the company would look like in 20 years as we were leaving that legal office. I doubt I was thinking that far into the future and was probably more worried about where our next paychecks would come from. But, if I were thinking that far ahead, I believe Catalyst would have looked and worked exactly as it does today.