At age 33, Waltham resident Will Haley heads Swing Design, an international, high-end home furnishings business. Odds are you have a few of his company’s specialty products in your home, or maybe even around your dog’s neck: Sacchi bookmarks, Soho and eco-friendly picture frames, photo keychains and brushed metal paperweights. Or Swing’s newer items, like the tiara bookmark, the bracelet bookmark, elegant Spira coasters, and pet charms that let everyone know your pooch is a “diva.”
Q: Tell us about your business.
A: For over 20 years, Swing Design has been creating and manufacturing products for leading fashion and home furnishing companies, along with developing our own brands.
Q: How did you become a CEO at such a young age?
A: I became CEO through an unfortunate event. In 2008, the founder unexpectedly passed away from cancer, leaving the business up for sale. At the time, I had been an employee for 7 years, and having worked in every division, I felt I had the ability to run the corporation. In December of 2008, I put together a purchase offer and presented it to the majority stockholder. He approved and I took ownership of the business. I am an evening student in the Babson MBA program, and I credit the school with helping to provide the tools and skill set to take over as CEO.
Q: Are you optimistic about growth prospects?
A: Yes, I am very optimistic. Over the last year, we have secured design and manufacturing projects with some of the best-known brands in the world.
Q: What are some of the creative things you’ve done to keep your business afloat during the recession?
A: We really stay on top of the ever-evolving world markets. In the past, Swing Design worked in a very rigid supply chain. Now, we have the ability to quickly react to economic conditions and raw material costs. We have been able to reduce our manufacturing costs, in some cases, 50 percent or more.
Q: How do you keep up with the trends, or, stay one step ahead?
A: We are constantly traveling the world looking for new materials and techniques. We also have a full-time design team that is constantly coming up with new concepts. Because we are creating products for leaders in the fashion and home furnishings worlds, they demand that we continue to stay ahead of the current trends.
Q: What is your favorite part of the job?
A: I love seeing an idea go from a hand-drawn sketch to a product that ends up in someone’s home. It is a really cool feeling when I can walk into a home and point out 10 or 15 products we designed.
Q: What’s your favorite country to do business in, and why?
A: My passion has always been doing business in China. The country is so rich in history, and the culture is so diverse, that every trip brings a new experience. China also continues to see massive growth, with the country holding over 50 percent of the world’s construction cranes. There is no other place on the planet you can see firsthand such rapid growth. Two years ago, I would take a dirt road from my hotel to a factory, now I drive on a four-lane-wide highway.
Q: What is your newest product, and why did you bring it on the market?
A: There are a lot of products on the market that tout themselves as eco-friendly, but rarely can live up to the name. Take bamboo products, for example. To create a finished product, bamboo goes through an energy-intensive treatment process, and most often, construction consists of using formaldehyde adhesives. We wanted to develop an eco product that we could stand behind. After 2 years of development, we just launched a collection of photo frames where the core is made from corn and wheat byproduct. The frames are then wrapped in a thin wood veneer, and post-consumer paper makes up the back of the frame. The line was recently picked up by Nordstrom, and we are also taking preorders over the phone.
Q: If you could have any other business, what would it be?
A: I am a big fan of the oceans, and if I were to give this business up tomorrow, you would probably find me somewhere in southern Thailand running a SCUBA business.
Q: What is your vision for Swing Design?
A: We strive to bring modern and unique products to peoples’ homes while maintaining high ethical and social responsibilities.
Q: Do you believe government regulation will be a major obstacle to Swing Design’s growth in the future?
A: Yes, government regulations can be difficult. A lot of times the regulations are easy for big business to navigate, but very difficult for small businesses that have a limited staff. We have our difficulties with ever-evolving regulations that seem to become more and more complex. You really need a full-time staff to cover it all.
Q: Who is your hero?
A: I would have to say my mom. I lost her at an early age, but she never gave up fighting. Even to the last day her only focus was making sure she instilled solid morals in me and that I learn to love life and the people around me.
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