Friese

Friese Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Donald Friese, 80

Company: The Friese Foundation

Title: Founder

Donald Friese is the billionaire former owner and chairman of Vernon-based glass products company C.R. Laurence. Born into poverty in rural Pennsylvania, he joined the company in an entry-level warehouse job earning $2.50 per hour in 1961. Friese eventually worked his way to an ownership stake in the business, which he grew over the subsequent decades. When the former owner retired in 1997, Friese bought up the remaining equity he didn’t already have. Friese worked at C.R. Laurence for 58 years before finally selling the company in 2017 to Irish building supplier Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope Inc. for $1.3 billion. He gave $85 million of the proceeds to C.R. Laurence’s employees in the form of bonuses. Today, Friese manages both the Friese family office, with his son, Donald Friese Jr., and its philanthropic arm, the Friese Foundation. His organization has been active in supporting Los Angeles in the fight against Covid-19, donating $100,000 each to the USO and the Salvation Army for pandemic response efforts.

Why not retire?
The word retirement is not something that I really ever thought about doing. I never thought I’d reach 80 years old, not to mention (retiring). I love to work with people — my customers, my employees, my vendors and my friends. It’s almost like someone would ask you what your hobby is. This is my hobby.

Do co-workers seek out your experience and knowledge?
Yes. It’s not just my employees. It could be my customers, my vendors, my friends — who are in different situations — who seek out my advice. When they want to run an idea by me, I’m here.

How do you keep the work you do fresh and interesting?
I like what I do. The interest is already there. If you do something and you like it, you get satisfaction out of it.

What are the biggest changes you’ve observed in your workplace environment across your career, and what are key aspects that have never changed?
It always was a challenge in a category called human relations. It was a test to see if you were smart enough to find bright people. See them, find them and bring them on. You never stop searching for good people. Everyone says there are no good people out there, (but) there are tremendous (numbers of) good people out there. You have to be a leader and get them on track and then make sure they do the same for their peers.

How has working in Los Angeles changed over the years?
Politics in general have changed so much with what they are doing for the people, the city and what their priorities are. You drive down the street to downtown, when you see all the homeless and the tents. It’s so sad, so discouraging.

What’s next on your agenda?
My continuing focus is on the ability to get other people to be successful. My goal is driven by my son and all my employees, my customers and all of my vendors and all of my friends.

What’s the one thing people often get wrong about retirement?
To me, when you’ve retired, it means you’ve stopped. I never want to stop. I never want to quit. As long as you can, keep doing something that has some benefit. When you stop, you die. I’m gonna just keep doing what I do.

What do you do for fun?
I already told you about my hobbies (work). That’s what I do for fun. To me I get so much enjoyment out of what I do for other people.

If you could go back in time, what advice would have you for your 50-year-old self?

It’s quite simple. It’s to always look at what you are doing, always know you are doing something that has a purpose. Be determined that when you take it on, you see it through. And never, never quit.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.