Following this week’s surprise announcement of lighting industry veteran Maria Scutaro Mullen’s appointment as President & COO of award-winning domestic manufacturer Hubbardton Forge, I chatted with Maria about this key appointment in my brand new interview series One 2 One.
Linda Longo: You have decades of experience in working with overseas manufacturers, but now you will be overseeing a U.S. factory where everything is made right there on the premises. Besides the relief of reduced international travel, what are some of the aspects you are looking forward to?
Maria Mullen: We are a made-to-order company, which is unique in our industry and gives our customer so much flexibility. It’s also a challenging model in these times of “instant” access. We can’t offer instant, but we are significantly improving our operations to have a fast turn-around on orders. Bringing this level of product – with the number of options we offer – and a quick turn-around is the future of Hubbardton Forge, and I am excited to bring that to our customers.
Linda Longo: The past few months have been challenging times with the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s changed at the Forge to comply with social distancing and working in a bustling factory in this new age?
Maria Mullen: Like most businesses in Vermont, The Forge was closed for many weeks. Following the Governor’s guidelines, we started bringing people back a few weeks ago on a limited basis. At first it was only 5 people, then 10, etc. We have set up multiple shifts to be able to get as much product out to our customers ― and that has worked really well.
We have enhanced sanitizing and cleaning protocols in place. Staff in the building is still limited, with many people working remotely. Those coming into the building all have daily temperature and health checks before entering. We all wear masks and social distance. Our break room is closed and water fountains are turned off and we can’t have group gatherings, but we are making it work. The team here has been remarkably adaptable and has really taken on the challenges with a great attitude and commitment. Our goal is to keep our team members, their families, and the greater community safe while getting back to work as quickly as possible.
Linda Longo: What are you most excited about in taking on this position?
Maria Mullen: One of the things I am most looking forward to is working hands-on with the artisans and craftspeople here at the Forge and also working with local craftspeople in glass, leather, wood, stone, etc. to combine with our metalwork.
My grandfather, father, and uncle all made furniture and I grew up in my grandfather’s shop. I loved watching pieces of functional art develop from pieces of wood and metal. Many years later, when I started at Feiss, we were still domestically producing portables in-house. I loved going upstairs to watch the carvers and finishers; it was my favorite place in the building, and I imagine that – in a similar way – I will often be drawn out to the production floor at the Forge.
It will be nice to be able to pop in on production at any time during the process. Being domestically produced changes my relationship with the process, and I am really looking forward to that.
The other thing I am looking forward to is getting back to interacting with customers, I’ve missed that, and them, these last several years.