Apogee Enterprises isn't a household name like some of Minnesota's public companies. But many of the state's large buildings, including U.S. Bank Stadium, have its telltale architectural glass.
The company has grown significantly in the past decade — from a Midwest firm to one that has projects nationwide and $1.4 billion in revenue its last fiscal year that ended in February — led by its chief executive, Joe Puishys.
The company is looking for a new CEO after Puishys announced in September that he wants to retire after the end of this fiscal year.
He said it's time after leading the Bloomington-based Apogee, and 33 years before that moving up the ladder at Honeywell.
"I thought this was a perfect triangulation of many items: my age, my tenure, the new management team, the new board that made this the right time for someone else to take the reins," Puishys said.
The board has hired a search firm to look at both internal and external candidates for Puishys' replacement. If the company announces a successor sooner than the end of February, he said he'll help that person transition into the role and then get out of the way.
"No new CEO wants the old guy or gal sitting around helping. I will be available offline," Puishys said.
But he said he also will remain vested in and a big cheerleader for the company.
"Nothing would make me happier than a year from now to say, 'Wow Bill or Mary really did a great job, much better than me," Puishys said. "I'm very confident in the success that I've had here. I hope somebody can do even more in the next phase of Apogee."
Puishys was the fourth CEO of Apogee and the first from outside of the company when he joined the maker of architectural glass and framing systems in August 2011.
The company was coming off a year when company revenue was $583 million, but it had lost money and was mired in a downturn in the commercial construction market. By the end of his first fiscal year, the company had turned profitable and still is.
Chris Metz, CEO of Anoka-based Vista Outdoor, said Puishys leads with passion and vision.
"His leadership will be missed but his legacy will endure through the people he has influenced through the years," Metz said in an e-mail. Puishys served on Arctic Cat's board when Metz was CEO of the company.
Puishys developed his business and leadership skills through a long career at Honeywell. When he was a 20-year-old student at Bryant College (now Bryant University) in Rhode Island, he answered an ad for a summer internship at Fram, an oil filter company then owned by a conglomerate called Bendix Corp.
Bendix was acquired by Allied Corp., which eventually became Honeywell Inc. Puishys started moving up in the automotive business, first through accounting and finance departments and eventually through the management side with brands like Fram oil filters, Autolite, Garrett Turbochargers and Bendix Brakes.
Puishys ended up in Minneapolis when Honeywell CEO David Cote tapped him to run the company's $3 billion Environmental and Combustion Control division. The unit sold heating, cooling, lighting and combustion control systems for the building industry.
Apogee recruited him from there.
"It was time for Joe to make a bet on Joe," Puishys said.
Apogee had cash on its balance sheet, no debt and a reasonable line of credit, he said. It was also a very cyclical company going through a tough cycle for architectural glass in the large scale office market.
"I thought if I could take the learnings from a world-class company like Allied Signal and then Honeywell, and bring them to this small company — leave the bureaucracy behind, some of the red tape — I could maybe do something here," he said.
So he brought to Apogee the lean, disciplined and reliable business processes and controls that he learned from legendary Honeywell leaders like Cote, Larry Bossidy and Roger Fradin.
Puishys also focused the company on new product introductions, new markets and new segments and set aggressive goals to achieve double-digit operating margins and $1 billion in annual sales by 2017.
"When I got here Apogee was really this Midwest company," Puishys said. Now the company has factories in Texas, does more business in Florida and New England and is pursuing new opportunities on the West Coast.
Operations at Apogee improved by light years under Puishys, said Andrew Adams, chief investment officer of St. Paul-based investment firm Mairs and Power, which has owned Apogee in its Small Cap Fund since the fund's inception in August 2011.
"Joe has intentionally and successfully diversified the company away from large marquee skyscrapers (where they lead the market by far), into markets with much less cyclicability including mid- and small-building projects as well as more installation services," Adams wrote in an e-mail. "The strategy puts the company on much better footing to weather the next economic downturn."
Puishys said he was planning to announce his retirement earlier. However when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. earlier this year, he was determined to help the company ride through it.
While coronavirus rates are spiking again, Puishys believes Apogee has managed through the most uncertain part of the pandemic, giving him confidence that now is the right time to step back.
"I do believe there is less unknown now. People understand how serious it can be; we also understand that perhaps total lockdowns maybe can be avoided if people adhere to distancing and masking," Puishys said.
Apogee's business depends on the nonresidential commercial construction market, but the company's diversification means it is less dependent on the largest office buildings.
The pandemic-driven adoption of work-from-home practices has some people writing off the office environment, but Puishys doesn't agree.
"I honestly believe the office sector will return strongly, because I believe most CEOs believe in work-from-work," he said.
In retirement, Puishys says he and his wife, Kathi, will dedicate more time to philanthropic efforts and time with family.
"I haven't seen a lot of Kathi in the last 15 years. Some of that is just the lifestyle we've chosen," Puishys said. "It's mostly been that I've been a workaholic for a long time."
Now they are eager to spend more time with their two adult children and a new grandchild who live on the West Coast. A home in Huntington Beach, Calif., is close to their son, Joe, a lieutenant commander with the Navy, and their daughter, Katie, an avid equestrian.
For years, they raised guide dogs for International Guiding Eyes and continue to support that organization and are now helping fund the Huntington Beach police department's K-9 program.
Puishys also is on the board of directors at Bryant University, where he and Kathi graduated. Together, they have set up a scholarship foundation there for four students from military families.
But he is not giving up all of his Minneapolis pursuits.
He is involved on the board of a private equity-backed company, and at some point in 2020 he will take over the president role at the Minneapolis Club.
But with six new members joining the Apogee board in the past two years, and what he feels are solid people in management roles, "I feel that we've gotten some of the issues behind us that have held us back the last several years," Puishys said.
"I'm pretty excited about the future of Apogee," he said.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926