Magnolia Cos. celebrates 50th anniversary

CEO: Good people, innovation have driven success

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Magnolia Companies in St. Rose has a long history of not only achieving success, but expanding on it.

Founded by Henry Smith in the late 1950s, Magnolia is a conglomeration of 24 businesses ranging from real estate and offshore dredging to the production of LED light bulbs.

It was founded as a construction firm (then named “Mid-South Construction) in the late 1950s by  Smith and the business has stayed in the family since his passing, with his sons Glen and Gary Smith overseeing operations today.

Although the bedrock of the company is still its marine operations, the creation and acquisition of other businesses has led them into real estate, motorsports, film and TV production and more recently the production of LED light bulbs.

Glen Smith, company CEO, said the secret to his company’s success, by and large, comes down to one simple word.“People,” Smith said. “Our father left us with the mindset of working with people. Going in and finding the good. All of us have positives and negatives. You find the good in people and get them in a position where they can really expand on that.”

Smith said Magnolia interviews 20 people each month in all different fields, constantly looking to better the operation and provide opportunities.

“It’s the strangest thing,” Smith said. “We’ll bring someone in that specializes in one area and slide them into a new career. You have to be innovative. To me, a big secret to business success is the ability to recognize a  strength in someone. It doesn’t matter at what level. A maintenance person is more of an artist in keeping things pristine.”Recently, a clock and display structure was dedicated to the company, Smith noting it has been dedicated to all past, present and future associates of company.

“It’s all about time,” Smith said. “The clock is ticking. The time those people put in, that’s why we’re here today.”

Three years ago, Magnolia moved its organization from Jefferson Parish to its current location on Airline Highway in St. Rose. Smith and his family are River Parish natives with Smith living in LaPlace and his brother in Norco. He said that typically, he has eight or nine businesses in mind for potential acquisitions, each chosen because they fit specific parameters.

Smith gave the example of Coastal Erection, one of two Magnolia acquisitions within the past year.

“They’ve been in business for 53 years and they’ve worked in three industries,” Smith said. “They’ve got (industrial) plants along the river, they work in the marine industry and the film industry. We work in all three of those. So it becomes easy for us to bring that company in.”

Smith said Coastal Erection doubled its sales within the first year with Magnolia.

“They didn’t have to bring in a receptionist or payroll people, because our base operation already has that,” Smith said. “I have three vice presidents, a director of finance, marketing people … they didn’t need (to hire) any of that. We brought the meat and potatoes. We brought it to St. Charles Parish, so taxes … everything feeds into (the local economy).”

Another new pursuit of Magnolia has been within the film industry, where the first film fully funded by Magnolia’s production company, “The Zipper,” recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is now hitting the big screen nationwide. The movie is a political drama starring Patrick Wilson, Richard Dreyfus and Lena Headey.

None of it would be possible, Smith says, without true determination.

“You have to have persistence in making it work,” he said. “We have some associates who have been here 29 years. Many of them are very devoted … their families have grown up here.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who has worked closely with us who didn’t enjoy it. And that really goes a long way.”


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