Team Member Interview: Harry Witwicki — A History of Making History in Canadian Signage

“The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value.” (Baudelaire)

 

Behrends Group might have the most cutting edge techniques and quality products available on the modern signage market, but few know of the company’s humble beginnings and long history of service in the public and private sectors. Behrends has been in operation since 1952, specializing in the design and manufacture of cast bronze, aluminum and brass signage, as well as plaques. Since then, we have expanded our services to include a number of different techniques and abilities to diversify our product portfolio.

The work that Behrends Group has been involved in over the last 60+ years of production has shaped the way cities function and the way citizens think about themselves. Everywhere you go, there seems to be a bronze sign signifying a historical landmark, or businesses painting the visual cityscape with their own character through our signage. The city’s memorial projects and burial markers have all passed through the hands of the Behrends team, offering civic and personal history an opportunity for respectful and lasting commemoration across the generations. House numbers that shape the look and accessibility of neighbourhoods have been on the Behrends agenda for years, helping to affect how people interact between the areas within their city, and how they engage with their neighbours and their friends.

Part of the success of Behrends and why it has been able to touch so many important points in the social landscape is due to its incredible employees. With 42 manufacturing, designing and finishing employees (that have a combined experience of 295 years!), Behrends has a level of expertise that cannot be matched.

One of those valuable employees is Harry Witwicki, who is about to celebrate his 37th year of working for Behrends Group as a moulder in the foundry. Catching up with Harry was a delight and gives great insight into how professional and skilled employees have been a crucial part of the company’s legacy and history.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to Behrends Group.

I had been working in a foundry for 9 years in Nisku before I started at Behrends. I had been looking for something a little different and after switching to construction for a few months, I decided that working in the cold just wasn’t for me. My friend saw an ad in the newspaper – Behrends had been advertising for a moulder – and I decided to check it out. I met with the previous owners of the foundry, had my interview and thought I would try it out.

How long have you been working for Behrends Group?

This November 15th (2015) will be my 37th year!

That’s impressive! What is your earliest memory of working for Behrends?

Honestly, I remember my very first day, I came to work and the foreman at the time, John Russo, was standing outside, waiting for me. I thought that this place must be different if that is the kind of personal welcome you are going to give the new guy. It has always stuck out in my mind.

How did you feel when you first started working for the company? Do you feel the same way now?

I feel very much the same as when I first started. The working environment is personal but relaxed. As long as you have demonstrated your dedication, reliability and that you’re optimistic about work every day, it’s a comfortable place to be. That sort of thing doesn’t get left unnoticed here and loyalty is well-rewarded.

Can you tell me about some of your favourite moments working for Behrends?

There are plenty. Over the years, I have developed strong friendships with my coworkers and we have become one big family. Sometimes we go camping together and just enjoy our social time, outside the shop and in it. It’s really the people who have made the moments for me and there is a camaraderie here that is really strong.

Why do you think you have stayed so long? What is it about Behrends that has been such a positive experience for you?

The friendships are a big factor, as well as the relaxed, trusting environment. Everyone is very skilled in what they do and you feel the team spirit a lot. The work itself is always challenging me to learn more and be better- more efficient and whatnot. The variety of work and how interesting it is makes it all very rewarding.

What, in your opinion, has made the company so successful?

This is a really generous company. You get rewarded for working hard and you are free to learn in the working environment without being micromanaged. There are smart people working here and everyone contributes their strengths to the team. We are all working on a similar wavelength and with the same goals. We just want to do the best we can together.

A lot of people have come and gone while you have remained to see big changes in the company. Can you describe some of those changes as you saw them happening?

There have been a lot of changes since I first started in the foundry. I personally have grown a lot and learned so much in terms of moulding techniques – making them more efficient and getting the best quality possible. We’ve improved a lot of our techniques. One big example was the move we made from an oil-sand system to an air-set sand system. It’s a lot easier and the quality is much improved. The company as a whole has changed a lot too, not just in how we do things, but what we do too. I know we’ve moved into signage fabrication too, outside of our foundry work and that has been really successful too.

Where do you see the company going in the future?

I really only see things improving as long as we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Through the years we’ve adapted to the markets and added a lot of different products and techniques. As a group, we’ve made these shifts together and I think the flexibility of our team, the willingness to learn, is what will make the future of the company bright.

What gets you excited about coming back to work on Mondays?

The atmosphere here is great. Honestly, it’s as simple as the fact that I like my job. I look forward to coming to work. And, I guess, it keeps me active, keeps me in shape! It’s not easy physically and I think the activity has kept me healthy and strong.

What is something that not a lot of people know about you? What do you like to do in your free time?

Well, everyone here knows a lot about me. Like I said, we’re all friends and like a big family so there isn’t too much that people don’t know about me. In my free time, I like to get out camping and I really love to travel. Last year, I made it to Vancouver and Cancun – it was a good time and I hope to do it again.