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posted: 2/19/2018 1:00 AM

Oval Brand Fire Products CEO suggests surrounding yourself with experts in things you're not

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  • Kevin Kozlowski

    Kevin Kozlowski


Q: Describe your company.

A: Oval Brand Fire Products manufacturers patented fire extinguishers and fire hose valves, which are built for ADA compliance and more efficient usage of space. Not only are they great looking, they are as much as 40 percent slimmer than standard 5-pound and 10-pound portable fire extinguishers.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: Yes, we are currently in our second round of funding and the proceeds will help us launch our standpipe solution. After our first round, we were able to achieve UL approval, secure our patents, successfully take our extinguisher products to market, and we're currently manufacturing private label versions for the nation's largest manufacturer of extinguisher cabinets.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: Increasing brand awareness and sales. Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous saying, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door" simply isn't true. The customer must first know that your product exists and understand why it provides them value.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: Fire protection products is an old, dusty and commoditized industry with few major innovations. Direct sales from manufacturers to contractors and end users, bypassing traditional distributors, appears to be increasingly more common.

M&A continues to consolidate the market toward just a few producers of products. Being new and nimble helps us compete.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: Surround yourself with people who are experts in things you're not, and have the wisdom to admit what you don't know.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: All deals must be mutually beneficial to both parties for the transaction to be considered a success.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: Peter Drucker for management, Dean Kamen for innovation, Warren Buffett for optimism.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: About me? I live with a rare disease called Mastocytosis. I am extremely fortunate to have a light case of it, and I manage it well with an antihistamine cocktail. For some folks it is devastating.

About our company? Our fire extinguishers are not oval shaped. Their shape is actually a rounded rectangle.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: To quote Henry Rollins -- "No such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time. All you got is life time. Go."

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: "The Science of Hitting," by Ted Williams. I managed my son's Little League team this season, and I needed some pointers on how to coach hitting. Why not seek advice from the best?

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: What keeps most early stage startups up at night? Sales, cash flow, and managing growth.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I'd likely be back in the construction industry, where my career started, in a leadership and innovation role.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: Working in the concession stand at Northside Pool in Wheaton. The following year I was a lifeguard.

Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: The Oval Speedway at Martinsville has a nice ring to it. (NASCAR fans will get this).

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: Back in my construction days, I razed a Chicago building right next to the fabled location of Al Capone's vault. Turns out that Geraldo missed the treasure by 100 feet. Where do you think we found our startup capital? (Just kidding).

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: @EverythingGoats always cheers me up. @elonmusk for having the audacity to believe that we have a future, and that we must commit to making it as well.