Esta Winkler has worked at ProVia for 47 years and has seen a lot as the company grew and went through many changes. These days it’s quite unusual for someone to spend their entire career at one company, so we asked why she made this choice and how this has worked out for her. Following are a few excerpts from our interview with Esta, who will be celebrating her retirement at the end of this year.
How did you get started at ProVia?
I turned 19 in August of 1968, and in September I was hired to work for Alsco, which was the Sugarcreek facility where we made storm doors and storm windows. I worked in production for 10 years, mostly in the storm door department, and I ended up being a team leader in that department for several years. I really enjoyed working in the plant and making storm doors! Then there was a job opening in the payroll department in the office, so I applied and did that for a couple of years. Then I worked as a shipping clerk for a couple of years and also in the order department. Just all kinds of things, and I enjoyed learning as much as I could, doing different things. At one point they asked if I’d be interested in a newly created position as a customer service manager. I’ve been doing customer service ever since.
What did they see about you that was a good fit for customer service?
At the time, I knew the product very well. I also enjoyed people. I was very friendly with everybody in the production area and of course in the office. I just obviously loved working with customers and we got along well. I guess I’m a people person!
What were the early days like in your customer service role?
By this time Alsco had gone through some changes. Then an investment company out of New York purchased the company and it became Sugarcreek Window and Door. That’s when I started in customer service, toward the end of that era.
What was it like being owned by an out-of-state investment company?
It was a little scary. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We had a pretty good company all those years, but this was something new for us. It started out fine but then things got challenging and the company went into bankruptcy. We didn’t know if we were going to have jobs or not. Then we heard that a company named Precision Door (under the leadership of Bill Mullet) was interested in purchasing the company out of bankruptcy. That was in September of ’95. Of course, at the time we weren’t too sure of that either! But it turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to the company at that point.
What do you mean by “the best thing”?
They invested in the company. They invested in the employees. They improved the facility at the Sugarcreek location and there were other facilities as well that they purchased over the years. The company has excellent management and they know what they’re doing, so it’s very successful.
What was it like, being with a company that changed so much over the years?
It’s just been a joy and a privilege to work this long with the same company. During the transition they interviewed us and thought we were valuable enough to keep around and they’ve been so good to us ever since, and it’s just been a joy. The company invests in all of us, even in things like character development. I’ve become a better person, I think, having worked for Bill Mullet and his family.
How do you feel about your job, do you enjoy it?
Never once have I had that feeling of “Oh, I have to go to work now.” I love my customers, and I love my company. Sometimes things get super-busy but it’s invigorating. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with me in the customer service area and everybody else. We just have a great team all around.
Did you ever imagine ProVia would grow as much as it has?
I actually did imagine it! I always felt that with the right management and the right kind of people running this company, it would be very successful. I was not proven wrong on that. It’s just amazing how much we’ve grown. I predict the company will grow even more in the next few years.
It’s pretty rare these days that someone would work at the same company for 47 years. What would you say to the younger generation who often change jobs throughout their career?
I think they’re missing a lot. I don’t think that you can build relationships with people and customers – good, solid relationships – jumping from one job to the next. I have some very close friends from working with people over the years, it’s like family.
What are you going to do with your retirement time? Do you have any plans?
I’ll spend time on my gardening, which I love to do. Now I won’t have to rush to do this on the weekends. And I’ve joined the Senior Center, believe it or not! They have a nice fitness area and walking track on the inside, and I plan to spend a lot of time doing that. I love to walk and I probably will do a lot of walking with our little dogs, Frodo and Bella in the summer. I’ve even thought about taking a cooking class and learning how to cook after all these years. We plan on doing some traveling too. I plan to keep busy. I enjoy being busy.
Well it sounds like ProVia has been very lucky to have you.
It’s been very interesting. People don’t know what they’re missing when they don’t stick around with the same company for a while. I’ve truly loved my career at ProVia and feel very blessed to have been a part of this company. I would like to thank the Mullet family for allowing me to be a part of the company.
Esta’s retirement party will take place on December 16, 2015. Feel free to add your comments below as we celebrate and thank her for 47 years of excellence at ProVia!
More: You can read a detailed history of ProVia in our e-book “The Professional Way, The Story of ProVia’s Past, Present and Future.”