Lost City Ironworks
Mike Spencer's days as a roadie for such bands as Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones are a far cry from his intricate work of turning iron into reproductions of 1920s Hollywood lighting.
Spencer, 46, says he's through with his wild days. He now devotes his time to building up Lost City Ironworks, which makes furniture, lighting and gates for celebrities and corporate clients, including the MGM Grand casino hotel in Las Vegas.
Spencer's story is a winding one. After graduating from the University of Toledo, he came to California to work as an audio engineer for rock bands in the late '70s.
That lasted four years. "The road is enough to make you insane," says Spencer. "And all those stories you've heard about roadies are true."
Spencer turned to the comparatively quiet life as an applications engineer for various high-tech companies. This kind of work became disillusioning as well, when his former employer, Hewlett Packard, "took the most sophisticated part of a software package and figuratively threw it in the trash can."
That's when he headed to Brazil. "When I was with Hewlett Packard, I had been flying a lot, and I kept meeting these people who said, 'Son, you gotta go to Brazil because the women are wonderful'," says Spencer.
He met a Brazilian woman (whom he eventually married) and traveled back and forth for 10 years, importing art objects such as jewelry and ceramics.
Spencer's importing business branched out into other South and Central American products, including wrought iron from Tijuana a product that eventually hooked him up with his future business partner, Phillip Rohan, an Irishman who had a wrought iron fabrication operation in Tijuana.
Spencer convinced Rohan to join him in Los Angeles, and the two founded Lost City Ironworks two years ago. They began by fabricating their own wrought iron into lamps, candle holders and other small decorative items and selling them to gift shops. But within a year, they had discovered that the real money is in providing lighting and furniture to hotels and restaurants.
Moving into the hospitality industry looks like a prudent decision the company doubled its revenue in its second year, with a corresponding increase in the workload of its owners.
"When asked what we do in our spare time, we say, 'We work'," says Spencer.
Lisa Steen Proctor
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