PBN 2023 Manufacturing Awards
MANUFACTURING CHAMPION: John Hazen White Jr., Owner and Executive Chairman, Taco Inc.
LEADERSHIP LOOKS DIFFERENT to everyone. For John Hazen White Jr., the longtime owner and executive chairman for Cranston-based manufacturer Taco Inc., leadership means championing your employees and putting them first.
The company is a prominent Rhode Island business with a family touch. Taco Inc., which also operates as Taco Comfort Solutions, is a 103-year-old, family-owned global company that engineers and manufactures high-efficiency indoor heating, cooling and plumbing systems.
“As a third-generation owner, the resilience and desire to promote manufacturing in our state makes John one of our vocal leaders,” Rhode Island Manufacturers Association Executive Director David M. Chenevert said. “Taco’s destiny has never been just to make things. This is where Taco employees and customers can grow, succeed and prosper together.”
Taco has faced some challenges, most recently navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Hazen White’s leadership, the company pushed through the health crisis by putting people first.
Along with being among the first companies to pull its workers off the road when the pandemic took hold in 2020, Taco began to heavily invest in safety upgrades around the plant for two reasons, Hazen White said. One, manufacturing did not shut down during the crisis, as it was considered essential, plus employee health was a top priority for Hazen White.
“The COVID-19 [pandemic] was such an unknown, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that something was terribly askew here,” Hazen White said. “We erred on the side of caution. We did a lot of things aggressively to build in protection for people.”
Hazen White said much of his success in the industry can be attributed to those around him, the people he’s worked with. He feels the best formula for success is to build people up so that they can contribute and want to be a part of what both Taco and the manufacturing sector does.
Taco has “always been over the top” with employee programs, Hazen White said. One such example is the company’s $20 million training facility – Taco’s Innovation & Development Center, also known as the Taco Learning Center – that helped enrich industry professionals and Taco’s workforce.
Hazen White said that if people are hired but not qualified, then they should be trained. At one point, the learning center had a catalog of 127 courses, ranging from blueprint reading to gardening to literature classes, he said. The learning center also reached a 98% employee enrollment in the program, he said.
“We’ve always had the best employee education program you could possibly find anywhere,” Hazen White said. “We’ve always wanted our employees to feel like they are a part of our community.”
Company growth has also been solid at Taco. During Hazen White’s leadership since the early 1990s, Taco grew from $20 million in annual revenue to $500 million.
Hazen White also promotes manufacturing across Rhode Island as the driving industry for the state’s economy, including keeping people employed throughout the Ocean State – and keeping companies committed to operating in the state. He extends help to other manufacturing companies and suppliers through his work with RIMA offering workshops, discussions and leadership counseling as an association advisory council member. Through the pandemic, Taco provided ideas and solutions to all manufacturers, connecting to the community and furthering the design products with a focus on energy efficiency.
Beyond manufacturing, Hazen White stresses the importance of being philanthropic and supporting the community. In 2001, Hazen White and his mother, the late Mary Tefft “Happy” White, established the John & Happy White Foundation – later renamed The White Family Foundation – to assist community-based nonprofits in Rhode Island that serve “significant social goals,” according to the foundation’s website.
From 2010 to 2021, the foundation has awarded $8.7 million in grants to more than 200 organizations across the state.
“I learned that I have surrounded myself with a community of caring people,” Hazen White said. “They care about me. They care about my company, but most of all, we care about each other. I know that the grit, the resilience and the tenacity of the people at Taco will ensure we get through any challenge.”