Allan Marzetta owns one of the largest machining and plastic-injection molding companies on the West Coast, with 180 employees and $15 million in annual sales.
But he doesn’t act like it.
As chairman of Altek Inc. in Liberty Lake, Marzetta puts on white socks, not executive airs. He’d rather pound nails at his new $5 million factory than attend pretentious downtown business meetings. He’d rather stalk a Canadian moose with his 300 Winchester than the next big deal.
“You’d think a guy with 180 employees would be more formal, but Al is just a good, down-to-earth businessman,” says U.S. Bank executive Jay Lewis, and Marzetta’s banker since 1981. “Even though he’s not real sophisticated, he’s very, very bright. He’s dumb like a fox.”
Born in Massachusetts and raised in the San Francisco area, Marzetta has reached the top of his field without really knowing it. From an $8,000 investment 25 years ago, the 55-year-old high school graduate has created one of the largest West Coast companies producing metal and plastic parts for the electronics and medical industries.
Telect, Itron, Advanced Technology Laboratories and A-dec are among the 50 or more customers who depend on Marzetta for pieces that connect computers, operate ultrasound machines and attack heart disease.
In August, Marzetta will open a new 138,000-square-foot factory across from his current building on East Appleway in Liberty Lake. He expects sales to double in five years to $30 million.
That’s solid growth for a company that just as easily could have been founded in Seattle. Marzetta and his family were headed to Puget Sound in the late 1960s after completing a Massachusetts apprenticeship in tool-and-die making.
When he arrived in Spokane, Marzetta’s son became ill and had to be hospitalized. During his stay, a motel clerk convinced Marzetta to apply for a job as a mold man for Columbia Lighting Inc. in Spokane. He never left the area.
After bouncing around several companies, Marzetta and a partner started a machine shop in his garage. The pair parted in 1981 when Marzetta expanded into plastic-injection molding.
The timing of Marzetta’s venture was perfect. For years he has ridden the growth of the high-technology and medical supply industries, where parts are constantly needed to keep up with new innovations.
“He’s done a miraculous job,” says Mike Saad Sr. of Dana-Saad Co., a Valley plastic injection molding company. “He went from nothing to a giant.”
Marzetta’s only failure, Lewis says, was a separate company he founded years ago to make joy sticks for video games.
Marzetta’s successes, however, are endless. True to his style, many begin with nothing more than a handshake.
Last month, Marzetta agreed to make $50,000 in parts for a Portland dental supply company. But the deal will require him to buy a $440,000 injection molder from Germany.
It never occurred to Marzetta that the contract wouldn’t cover his capital cost. He figured the relationship he nurtured with the customer eventually would generate enough additional business to more than cover his costs.
“I’m not controlled by some conglomerate where I have to go to the board of directors to get something done,” Marzetta says. “If the project looks sound, I can make the deal on the spot.”
Employees describe Marzetta as painfully shy, and a bit of a card. He once created a space at the office for his Chevy pickup called the “Italian handicapped zone.”
At company parties, Marzetta lets someone else do the talking. But his quiet charity speaks loudly of his love for children.
The father of seven has dropped as much as $5,000 at the annual Festival of Trees benefit for the Valley Medical Center. He helps coach the his kids’ T-ball team.
Spotting a good business deal seems to come naturally to Marzetta. And his ability to build any part, regardless of its complexity, is legendary. But he’s got a lousy memory for details.
He can’t tell you if Altek has 50 customers or 100. He forgets the names of common shop machines and isn’t sure how much he’s spending on payroll. (It’s $4.5 million annually, says company president Mike Schneider). He frequently calls employees “Sis” because he says he forgets their names.
Recognizing his weakness in managing large numbers of people, Marzetta recently hired Schneider, a former Northern California high school buddy, in January. Schneider most recently was vice president for American Steel Co. in Seattle.
Schneider will manage the day-to-day operation while Marzetta oversees construction of the new building and new projects.
“We’ve grown up with this understanding that customers want us to build parts and that’s fine. But now they’re asking for more,” Marzetta says. “Frankly, I’d rather be hunting and fishing.”
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