Broomfield (worldwide HQ is in Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Founded: 1985 (1919 in Europe)

Publicly traded (AMS:HDG)

Employees: 14,000 worldwide (900 in Colorado)

Rick Pellett and Hunter Douglas are Making a Science of Shade

President and GM of Hunter Douglas’ Window Fashions Division in Broomfield, Rick Pellett has been with Hunter Douglas since 1986. “When I got here there were 60 employees, and I’ve been running ever since,” he jokes.

Pellett started just one year after the company revolutionized the window covering market with Duette, a hexagonal honeycomb of a window shade. Better at blocking light and retaining heat than its forebears, the shade caught the eye of Hunter Douglas’ executives who bought worldwide rights to make it and set up shop in Broomfield.

Today Hunter Douglas is a $2.5-billion company worldwide, and it makes a wide range of window coverings in Broomfield, including Duette as well as subsequent products like Silhouette and Pirouette.

“Companies are successful for basically one of three reasons,” says Pellett. “You can go after innovative products, you can go after operational excellence, or you can pursue customer intimacy and good customer service — it’s hard to have the resources to be the best in all of those areas. Out of that three-legged stool, we’ve chosen to focus on innovative products.”

Innovative products need innovative manufacturing equipment, says Pellett, and nearly all of Hunter Douglas’ equipment in Broomfield is proprietary and made in-house. “Virtually all of the equipment in our plant is built by us,” says Pellett. We’re not only product innovators — we’re equipment innovators.”

This means the company’s engineers in Broomfield start by making hand models, Pellett explains. “It can start out as paper and tape. It’s up to us once we figure out how to create the machinery that will give us that product.”

With 100 engineers and 350 production workers in Colorado, Hunter Douglas has a high ratio of engineers for the window-covering industry, and there’s a reason for that. “We’re asking fabric to do mechanical things,” explains Pellett. That makes for plenty of design work to “invent the new and reinvent the old,” he adds. “We try to create an environment where people are able to work on blue-sky activities.”

What’s next for Hunter Douglas Window Fashions? Pellett is tight-lipped, as so much of the company’s secret sauce is locked up in proprietary manufacturing processes and patented products. ” I can’t even tell my wife,” he laughs.

Challenges: Pellett highlights two: “finding employees with the right skills and education” and “government policies that hinder the ability for manufacturing to grow and create jobs.”

Opportunities: The growing economy is offering opportunities to “invest in innovation, capital improvement and employee development,” says Pellett.

Needs: Pellett says the state needs to “create pro-manufacturing policies that will make Colorado more competitive,” citing education, infrastructures, incentives, and energy as keys.

Nationally, he says the U.S. needs to promote trade policies to open international markets, reduce the corporate tax rate, strengthen energy, communications, and transportation infrastructure, and “support a coordinated policy that strengthens the protection of IP rights afforded by both domestic laws and international agreements.”