You Bet Your Glass: Neudorf a story of rags to riches
By Frank Fulton
A Canadian success story
By Frank Fulton
Over the past few years I’ve looked back at the lives and achievements of a number of contributors and entrepreneurs that have influenced our industry. If grades were handed out for rags to riches success stories, Peter Neudorf could very well be at the head of the class.
Peter Neudorf, the elder brother to ten siblings, was born in the small Mennonite community of Neuanlage, Sask., in 1930. At a very early age, Peter had to help out his father, Cornelius, the owner of the local general store, by selling vegetables in the back alleys of Saskatoon. Although Peter was a third generation Canadian, because the family lived in a small isolated rural community he grew up speaking only German. During World War II, Peter’s family moved to the St. Catharines area of Ontario so Cornelius could find work. This would be Peter’s first opportunity to attend an English-speaking school. So imagine, the world was at war with Germany and Peter and his brother Bill showed up at Fairview School speaking only German. The Neudorf boys had to toughen up quickly. Peter says he enjoyed school but was there for a very short time. With a large family and very little money Peter was required to get a job at the age of 12. He worked at area farms for a year before getting a job at Canadian Canners in St. Catharines. All of his hard-earned money was given to his parents, a practice Peter would continue for many years.
Peter was initiated into the glass industry when he got a job at Niagara Glass in 1945. Over the next 11 years he learned the trade, met Theresa, the love of his life, was married, and started a family of seven children. In 1956, Peter decided to open his own glass company and founded Ontario Glass Craftsmen. In large part due to Peter’s hands-on approach, the company became one of the largest glazing contractors in Ontario over the ensuing years.
In 1986, Neudorf was planning to bid on the National Art Gallery project in Ottawa. One of the competing bidders was to be Keith Ferguson of Ferguson Glass. The two men met, decided this job would go better if they combined forces and that collaboration lead to the founding of Ferguson-Neudorf Glass.
Initially one would think this an odd couple: Keith was a university graduate with a business degree, Peter a self-educated, hands-on glazing contractor. Keith took a calculated and methodical approach, Peter a “grab the bull by the horns” and “shoot from the hip” approach. However, together they combined a set of skills that launched an organization that would become amongst the leading North American companies in the field of curtainwall and skylight construction.
Over the past 30 years, Ferguson-Neudorf has steadliy grown in both ability and size. Today they operate out of two facilities with their main plant and head office in Beamsville and an assembly plant near Fort Erie totaling 270,000 square feet with up to 300 employees. Between the two plants there are 10 glazing lines capable of producing in excess of one hundred modules of custom curtainwall a day.
Keith Ferguson passed away in 2010 and the Neudorf family purchased all his shares. “Out of a deep respect for Keith, his name will always remain in the company’s name,” says Jeff Neudorf, president. To this day, Peter still comes to the office every day of the week and walks the floor of both facilities two or three times a week, but it’s the sons: Jeff, John, Bill, Peter Jr., and nephew Danny who now do all the heavy lifting. When talking of the great Canadian entrepreneurs who have made an impact in our industry ,and great Canadian success stories in general, Peter Neudorf is most certainly there amongst them.
Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org