Human Resources and Manufacturing

Seating maker names fourth-generation CEO

June 30, 2015
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Seating company transitions to fourth generation leadership
Graham Irwin. Courtesy Irwin Seating

A 107-year-old seating maker is undergoing a leadership change this week, as the family owned business welcomes a fourth-generation leader to the helm.

Irwin Seating Company in Grand Rapids said yesterday that it has named Graham Irwin president and CEO, effective July 1.

Graham Irwin replaces his father, Earle S. “Win” Irwin, who will remain active with the company as chairman of the Irwin Seating Board of Directors.

The transition has been planned for several years.

“After more than 30 years as president, CEO and chairman of the board of Irwin Seating Company, it is time to begin transitioning leadership to the next generation,” Win Irwin said.

He said Graham Irwin has the “experience, energy and necessary skills to lead this company to continued success.”

Manufacturing background

Graham Irwin will be assume the day-to-day responsibilities of leading the company, while also working with the board and executive team to explore opportunities for continued growth.

He has spent nearly 10 consecutive years with the company prior to taking on the new role.

His first job with Irwin Seating came in the summer of 1995, when he worked as an upholstery line worker.

After earning an engineering degree from Vanderbilt University in 1998, he began his career working as a mechanical design engineer for EnviroDesign, then as a manufacturing engineer and production manager with Spectra Logic Corporation.

In 2006, he returned to Irwin Seating as a product development engineer. Since then, his leadership responsibilities have steadily increased, as he worked his way into his current role as SVP of product and business development and a member of the board of directors.

Graham Irwin said his background, which began on the “manufacturing front lines” and has “spanned a wide range of roles and responsibilities,” has prepared him to lead the company.

“I believe that this background and the resulting familiarity that it provides with virtually every aspect of the manufacturing process and our customers has prepared me to be an effective leader,” he said.

Family leadership

Win Irwin has run Irwin Seating since 1984, when he assumed leadership from his father, William Irwin, who had led the company since the end of World War II.

The first Irwin to lead the company was Earle S. Irwin, one of three Irwin brothers who helped found the company more than 100 years ago.

Two of Win’s other sons, Colin “Coke” Irwin and Andrew Irwin, also hold positions within the company, as the company’s director of sales and continuous improvement manager.

Based on statistics about family owned businesses, Irwin Seating is doing tremendously well.

The Family Business Institute reports that, “Only 30 percent of family owned businesses are successfully transitioned to the next generation, 12 percent remain viable in the third and only 3 percent of family owned businesses survive into the fourth generation.”

Irwin Seating

Irwin Seating makes public seating for movie theatres, auditoriums, arenas, schools and stadiums.

The company also has a facility in Altamont, Ill., where it makes telescopic bleachers and platforms for schools, arenas, convention centers and multi-purpose facilities. 

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