If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, Greg Header ’97 has proven that creativity and drive are close relatives. Header, president of Solar Innovations, has combined a dogged pursuit of opportunity with the vision and ingenuity to meet client design challenges to create an international market for his products.
Solar Innovations designs and manufactures high-end, sustainable products that increase the efficiency of residential homes and commercial buildings. These products include folding glass walls, multipocket doors, sunrooms, greenhouses, conservatories, skylights and more.
Under Header’s direction, Solar Innovations currently holds more than 30 patents and pending patents on a range of products. The growing company anticipates having more than 200 employees by the end of 2017 and has set a goal to exceed $30 million in sales this year.
But the prospects weren’t always so lofty. Upon graduating summa cum laude with a business degree from Alvernia University, Header founded Solar Innovations and became active in the glazing and fenestration industries.
Running a business was not a new pursuit. A natural entrepreneur with a keen sense of nurturing an opportunity, Header launched his first business — the Header Trading Company — in 1987 and ran it through college and beyond. Riding a favorable exchange rate, he built it into a multimillion-dollar operation that exported hides to Mexico, China and other international markets. Header still runs the company today.
Navigating a new industry and new technology
Still, Solar Innovations presented a unique challenge because, in 1997, Header was so new to the industry. “In the beginning, it was about survival,” says Header, who devotes most of his time to product development and technical sales. “Not many people in the industry wanted to give us a chance. We were focused on getting orders and getting people to believe in us.”
The original Solar Innovations offices were in a farmhouse, and the manufacturing operation was next door. In 2007, Header and his management team decided Solar Innovations needed a true professional business environment. It moved into a state-of-the-art 300,000-square-foot corporate office and manufacturing facility located on 24 acres in Pine Grove, Pa.
“I made a large investment in the new facility because we knew that if we were going to create a professional culture and be taken seriously, we needed to have an integrated business,” Header explains. “That was a key for us, because when people started coming to our showroom — and they came from all over the country and the world — they could see our capabilities and we would make the sale. That’s really when we started gaining momentum.”
But he also brought Solar Innovations to the world when he launched the company’s website. “We wouldn’t exist without our website,” Header says flatly. “Through our website, we started finding fringe customers who needed specialty help that no one else could provide. People come to us because we are known as the problem solvers in our industry. We never say no.”
An offshoot of that “can do” approach is that in providing custom solutions, Solar Innovations has been able to develop new products and approaches. A project on a high-rise in Hawaii led Header to devote a great deal of time to designing and honing a new lift-slide door.
“It took about a year of my life, but now we have one of the best lift slides in the world,” says Header. “It seals better than a sliding door and outperforms the design criteria for the water column by three or four times.”
Because of its success on that project, Solar Innovations landed a large job in Boston. Header says that each project becomes a showcase — and yields its own stories. For example, there was the time when he found himself on scaffolding 40 feet in the air, trying to finish the installation of a custom dome on NBA star Antawn Jamison’s home before a party he was hosting started.
Header credits his Alvernia experience with helping him stand apart and setting the foundation for his professional success. “My religion courses at Alvernia helped me develop my business ethics,” says Header, who is proud that Solar Innovations has never laid off its employees through all types of business cycles. “Alvernia stressed written and oral communication skills, which helps me when dealing with clients, and I learned a lot about researching, problem-solving and creative thinking there.”
Just as he has done with opportunities, Header has grown these skills and used them to enhance his professional career.
“This is what we mean by the dual effect of Alvernia’s mission,” explained Dr. Gerald S. Vigna, a theology professor Header credits with challenging him. “The strong business skills taught in tandem with serious religion and liberal arts courses not only helped in generating creative entrepreneurial thinking, but did so within the context of one of our most important contemporary ethical issues, sustainability.”
With Solar Innovations, Header has developed and installed 20-foot doors for LinkedIn and more than 30 stories of wood curtain walls for the Tower at PNC Plaza in Pittsburgh, a building that exceeds LEED Platinum certification and is called “the greenest office tower in the world.”
“If you look at our history, it’s our ability to do these impossible jobs that brings clients to us,” Header says. “We make the impossible possible. We find opportunities in the work no else wants or no one else can or wants to do, and we turn them into more business. This is what sets us apart.”