Meet Your Neighbors: The (Very Quiet) W.L. Gore Company
You may know the W.L. Gore Company for its flagship product: Gore-Tex. You might not be aware of the privately held company’s products for the satellite industry and the military, or the stents and other medical devices manufactured here in North Phoenix. In&Out recently got a partial tour of the facility—partial, because Gore keeps its trade secrets close to the vest, so work areas were off limits. We did, however, gain insight into why this company was recently among just 12 named for the 20th consecutive year to Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For.
The Gore campus, on the west side of North Valley Parkway between Dove Valley Road and Sonoran Desert Drive, includes three manufacturing buildings around a circular drive enclosing a parking structure and amphitheater. Offices, a cafeteria, an outdoor half-court basketball court and a sand volleyball court complete the campus.
In&Out’s visit was among the few ever allowed to the media. “This is not typical for Gore to do these things,” said Plant Leader Robert McCracken, explaining the high degree of privacy as necessary for the company’s business strategy: “A lot of the things we do are trade secrets and intellectual property, as opposed to patents.” (Though the company has more than 2,000 patents.)
Beyond government regulators overseeing production of medical products, few outsiders get inside the facilities. Even those who work at Gore access buildings on an as-needed basis.
Despite the secrecy, employees told In&Out intense collaboration and cooperation is typical. Employees are called associates, because all 10,000 of them are part owners of the privately held company. The culture, which emphasizes team effort, has been largely unchanged for nearly six decades, McCracken said.
“We don’t have to answer to Wall Street,” he said. “It’s about doing the right thing, even it if might cost us in the short term.”
“We have a lattice organization, not a hierarchical organization,” explained Marian Randall, a chemicals expert who moved from the Midwest to Anthem for a job at Gore in 2010. “You do work together, in small teams,” Randall said. “The associates that you’re working with have the same kind of passion, drive and motivation to get things done.”
“It’s completely different than other companies, to have that freedom to explore things with people, go directly to people you need help or assistance from,” said Karena Black, who’s tasked with marketing medical products.
The same polymer that goes into waterproof, breathable jackets and other apparel is the basis for most of Gore’s medical devices. Among them are stents inserted into the aorta or other major blood vessels to provide a new lining for blood flow.
“You can think of it like the plumbing in your house,” Black said. “It’s replacing the plumbing.”
Gore has facilities from Flagstaff to Europe and Asia. It is based in Newark, Del. It manufactures a diverse array of products including:
- Electrical cables that survive outer space
- Fabrics used by police, fire and military
- Computer filters
- Airplane gaskets
W.L. Gore is celebrating its 50th year in Arizona, a stretch that began in Flagstaff, and the company looks to be in Flag and in North Phoenix for the long haul. It owns another piece of land nearby—on Dove Valley Road—that’s earmarked for additional office space and manufacturing facilities, according to city planning documents. Gore plans to create 1,200 additional jobs, phased in over time, at the as-yet undeveloped site.
Company spokesperson Jana Kettering could not reveal any specific plans or construction time frame for the property.
Even McCracken, who acknowledged “we see this side of the Valley growing” couldn’t speculate when Gore might expand. “I really don’t know what’s going to go there,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be far off to believe that it would be something very similar to the existing facility.”
“One of our core beliefs is the long-term view, and making decisions that support that long-term view,” said McCracken, a 28-year associate.
- Founded Jan. 1, 1958 by Bill and Vieve Gore.
- The polymer in Gore-Tex was discovered by their son, Bob, in 1969.
- Polymer polytetrafluoroethylene is the official name.
- The company generates $3 billion in annual sales.
- More than 600 employees work in North Phoenix; 10,000 globally.