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Wilkie Sanderson

Marc Sanderson
Wilkie Sanderson

Class of 2006

By 2006, Marc Sanderson had already weathered uncertain times after 9/11, created new business processes and managed acquisitions at Wilkie Sanderson, a custom manufacturer of wood cabinetry.

What are you doing now?

Call me steady-Eddie. I'm doing the same thing professionally since the award: president/owner (same) of Wilkie Sanderson (same) in Sauk Rapids (same). (Please don't rescind the award!)

How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?

The award opened networks and created connections within the St. Cloud community. (P.S.: It also made me more attractive to my wife — BONUS!)

Other big changes since you received the award?

Grey hair (albeit longer) with wisdom appropriate to my age. And I'm happy with my overall life balance. I have always been proud of my family so that is not a big change since the award, but I wanted to say it anyway!

What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?

When each community (city, sect, faith, agency, demographic) recognizes that we are a contiguous region and cooperation replaces competition, greater St. Cloud will move to become greater!

2006 Interview

Originally ran: January 1, 2007

Walter Wilkie made Marc Sanderson an instant entrepreneur at 29 when he gave him the money to buy a Sauk Rapids wood cabinetry and architectural millwork firm.

A drop in business after Sept. 11 crippled the business and made Sanderson question if he had what it took. Five years later, Sanderson has raised Wilkie Sanderson's national profile with the development of industry-specific software and translucent veneer paneling. Sanderson developed the paneling, also referred to as wooden stained glass, for the Bigelow Church in New Brighton.

Armed with new processes, Sanderson bought a smaller Minneapolis manufacturer, still called Shop Works, and has plans for similar acquisitions.

Age: 39.

Job: President and CEO of Wilkie Sanderson, a Sauk Rapids custom manufacturer of wood cabinetry.

Education: Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from University of Michigan, master's in business administration from Harvard.

Family: Wife, Marie; sons, Riley, 7, Grayson, 6, and Nicholas, 3.

Favorite pastime: Going to Disney World. Has been there at least 15 times and will return this summer.

Activity in high school: Drama, music.

What would you have been voted in high school: Most likely to be a politician. He ran for school board in Wyandotte, Mich., at 18, was elected at 19 and served as board president by 21.

Prized possession: A photo of Riley, then 3, and Winnie the Pooh in Disney World.

What's the best advice you've received?

Be humble. My dad is a Methodist minister, so I did not necessarily have a silver spoon in the mouth to make it to Harvard. So that was his advice as I was going out there.

How did you foot the bill at Harvard?

Bootstrap. We're still paying the second mortgage right now, but that's not the most expensive education.

What was your most expensive education?

Making mistakes here. As I tell my staff, when I make a mistake, it has a lot more zeros behind it and it affects a lot more people.

What have been your major successes since buying the company?

I gave up about $1 million of my net worth to do the (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). It was not something we had to do financially. It was something I wanted to do. What I am excited about is the organization is at a point where I think that $1 million investment is going to reap tremendous returns in the next 10 years. And our system. There is no other company in our industry that has control over information like we do. That's exciting, but that doesn't yet make us recession-resistant. 

What was a defining moment in your career?

One was the phone call with Walter (after writing a paper on him at Harvard). He said ... I have this money sitting around and I have 
$5 million that I want to give you to find a business to go buy and run. The cool thing about the relationship is that we never had a contract. The bad (moment) would be what happened after 9/11 (when we laid off more than 100 employees). We weren't in the strongest position financially at that point in time. I remember sitting out in my car that October, going, "I'm not sure what to do next," and calling Walter and saying, "I'm not sure if I'm the right guy."

What was it like to lay off those employees?

I don't ever want to do it again. I can't. It was hard — because I still had a job at the end of the day. I would be the last one to go. And that's not necessarily fair because it was my fault. We were not ready. And it's my issue. No one else's. But everyone else took the pain.

What are you doing to ensure it does not happen again?

One: Our quality is much improved. Two: We compete also on service. Three: We are an ESOP organization. Everyone has a stake. No company can be recession-proof. We're trying to move to the point of being recession-resistant. And that is having an engaged work force.

How did translucent veneer become a reality?

Over the weekend (after meeting with Bigelow), I ended up making a sample. I did not have a press, and I knew pressure was important, so I lifted the front end of my Ford Explorer up, took a 2-by-2 sheet of veneer we had laying around and the glue I had in my garage and I went to Home Depot and bought some acrylic. (Bigelow said) "this is exactly what we want. You're on."

What prompted you to create the infoCentral software?

When I got here nine years ago and asked, "How do we know if we made money last month?" the response was, "You don't." That doesn't work for me. We ended up going to Minnesota Technology. We looked at the dozen (that met our criteria), and there was nothing that fit our needs. We just evolved into (deciding), let's do it ourselves, let's make this into a competitive advantage, and it really has become that. 

What have you given up for success?

It's time with my family. I'm at a fork in the road. I'm torn. When's enough enough? This is great company and I'm going to be very fine. I'm going to hit all my objectives that I could have every imagined in life if we stop. And then I can begin to do that second half of my life — spend time with the family, but more importantly start to give back to the community. The question is, do I go for the brass ring and do we roll this out even further and go after that aggressively? Or do we just let it happen?

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