Trusting in God, Du Fresne rings in success despite downsizing

| August 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Du Fresne Manufacturing is a precision sheet metal fabrication business in Vadnais Heights, but Robert Du Fresne, who started the company, doesn’t like to look at it that way.

After having to lay off half of his employees during the recent recession in order to save the jobs of the half who remained, Du Fresne re-focused his team to think about the people component of the work.

Chris Du Fresne, Robert’s son, is the business manager of the company, and from that seat nominated his father for the Leading With Faith Award.

The elder Du Fresne, he said, “is focused on the growth and development of his employees based on the tenets of our Catholic faith.”

Along with providing fair wages and benefits and a profit-sharing plan, Chris wrote, his father “feels the Lord calls him to provide his employees with opportunities to grow and develop.”

He has coined a term, “Oblitunity” (a combination of obligation and opportunity) to describe the culture and environment he has worked to create. Du Fresne sees sheet metal fabrication as a means to enable employee development, and through it has enabled many former employees to start their own businesses.

Starting with eight employees — which Du Fresne calls “members” of the company — the firm is up to 100 people and has received the Minnesota Quality Excellence Award, an honor rarely earned by manufacturing companies.

DuFresneRobert L. Du Fresne, 62

Company Du Fresne Manufacturing Company
Title President / CEO
Parish St. Genevieve, Hugo
Spouse Diane
Children Brian, Chris and Ashley
Volunteer activities Community activities through work
Education Undergraduate at St. Cloud State University, graduate MBA in finance from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul




How do you apply your faith and Catholic values at work?

I have been blessed with a very strong belief system in my core values that has been unchanged since my parental direction many years ago. These beliefs define my purpose at work. That is, respect and dignity is the framework for my quest in human development in the work place. I’m inspired by the opportunity the Lord has allowed me in sustaining Christian and Catholic values by preparing my members (employees) for the future.

Please tell a story about a time when applying your faith at work really made a difference.

My wife and I started Du Fresne Manufacturing Company in February 1991. We grew at a near perfect rate and successfully hired hundreds of people during this time. However, between the work being transferred to China (2002-2005) and the recession (2008-2010), the economy brought us to our knees. In October 2010, we projected that we would fall short, for the very first time, in meeting payroll for over 50 member families. During this period, I had many sleepless and very emotional nights of the likelihood the business might not survive this recession. One of those nights, on Oct.18 at exactly 2:05 a.m., I gave the business to the Lord. I said, “Lord, I can’t do this anymore. From this point on, it’s yours. You helped us start it, but I’m mentally exhausted. I will continue to work the very long hours, but the business has taken many little bites out of me for 19 years. All I ask is that you will periodically, show me a sign that I’m on the right track.” I started to pray the rosary every day to work, which ended up being the exact length of time I needed to complete a rosary.

During one of these rosaries, a thought came to me (Holy Spirit) that if I’m that nervous about the company and my family, what about everyone else in the company. So we ordered a big brass bell and hung it in the manufacturing plant. We instructed the sales people to ring the bell every time a new purchase order came in. This way everyone else would hear the “sign” that we are moving forward. The Lord surely had his fingerprints all over this one. Amen.

Who or what has been most inspirational to you in bringing your faith to the marketplace?

The most inspirational event created in this journey in bringing faith to the marketplace has to be the members at Du Fresne Manufacturing Company. During this same recession, the entire company found it difficult to concentrate on future goals and objectives. We just had to worry about tomorrow. Downsizing the company in order that the “whole’ survive was very difficult and extremely emotional. All we had left were our talents, passions and core values, which included our faith.

With this, and the Lord leading Du Fresne Manufacturing, we successfully achieved the highest and most prestigious recognition in Minnesota, the Minnesota Quality for Excellence Award. We are the only metal company to ever receive it. The Lord almost out did himself this time.

What achievement at work are you most proud of?

We have been in business now for just about 25 years and have achieved many local and global awards, created parts for the One World Center in New York, carry patents, trademarks, shown over 30 past members how to start their own businesses, and currently have over 48 percent of our market share, but nothing as great as seeing the company transform itself into a human development entity. Creating the word “Oblitunity” helps define the self-actualization we pride ourselves in.  Having our people reach a higher potential than they ever thought they could reach is humbling.

In what specific ways have you experienced God’s presence in your workplace?

God wants us to be happy and fulfilled at home and at work. Our company is a family. New people only have to be working here for 10 minutes and they feel the warmth and happiness. Sure, work can be challenging, but we hit these challenges head-on so they don’t become problems.

What advice do you have for others who want to lead with faith?

Start with a company vision and mission statement that is focused on people, not the product. Naturally you have to have a product that someone wants or needs, but the process to get there is having a total belief in people and faith in the Lord that he is there any time you need him. Secondly, be yourself; everyone else is taken.

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Category: Leading With Faith