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Simpson brothers: Working together, retiring together (10 photos)

Brothers Ken and Stephen Simpson retired from Array Bradford after long careers; 'For us, it's all about the people. The rest ... is just window dressing'

It was not only the end of an era, it was a three-tissue-box event.

There were plenty of emotional moments at Array in Bradford on Friday, when brothers Ken and Stephen Simpson retired from the company after long careers in the woodworking sector.

Ken started in 1977, Stephen in 1981, working with “The Swede” – a Swedish craftsman, whose work ranged from custom kitchens and saunas, to rebuilding mahogany cabin cruisers.

“The Swede” paid only $3.50 an hour. It was less than the brothers could have earned elsewhere, but they wanted to learn as much as earn.

In 1982, they went to work for a small local company in Bradford known for its high-quality kitchens and residential cabinetry. Three years later, the brothers and partner Phil Tolley purchased the business and began expanding.

Then disaster struck. In 1988, a neighbouring unit caught fire, and flames quickly engulfed the entire building on Bridge Street.

With the ashes still smouldering, and nothing left but “a fax machine, forklift and the receivables ledger,” the partners and key staff met around a kitchen table at the Tolley residence to decide: Would they rebuild, or fold and go their separate ways?

The decision was made quickly to rise from the ashes and rebuild – a statement of both faith and determination.

Within six weeks, the team had relocated into a new building, purchased replacement state-of-the-art equipment, and even 'borrowed' a kitchen recently installed for a family in Uxbridge, to show at a critically important Home Show.

Within a few years, Tolley secured Elizabeth Arden as an account, and the company became CCI Industries, to better reflect its new direction, producing not only cabinetry but store fixtures.

New accounts with independent grocers like Oak Ridges Market made fixtures an increasingly important part of CCI’s business – and eventually led to a split.

Tolley left CCI to pursue an opportunity in sales in the high-end kitchen sector. The Simpson brothers remained focused on the cosmetic fixturing market, eventually becoming a vendor to IDMD Design & Manufacturing, owned by brothers Bill and John Fielding.

The two sets of brothers worked well together, leading to a merger of CCI and IDMD. The merger was worked out around another kitchen table, this time at John Fielding’s home.

Within a few years, the newly merged businesses became the international company Array, and, as Ken put it, “rocketed to a different level.”

As Array Bradford, the company’s customers have included Macys, Bloomindales, Saks, Nordstrom, Chanel, Estée Lauder, Dior, Christian Louboutin, and Hermès.

Over the years, Ken and Stephen have remained important members of Array’s leadership team – Ken as President of Array Bradford, Stephen as Managing Director.

In fact, said Tom Hendren, Executive Chair and head of Global Business Development, CCI was “the most successful addition ever to the Array family. The quality of work that comes from this company is, and always has been, breathtaking… It’s a wonderful legacy.”

Hendren was one of the speakers at the retirement party on Friday. Family members – including the Simpson’s parents, and brother Richard Simpson - employees, and friends gathered to celebrate Ken and Stephen's work ethic, their support of their community, and their economic contributions to the region and to Canada, over the years.

Jeffrey Casselman, President and CEO of Array, sent a video message from Frankfurt in Germany, thanking the brothers for their work, which included establishing a key new facility in Mexico City.

Former MP Peter Van Loan also attended, and talked of the job creation, innovation, and international impact of Array Bradford under the brothers, calling them “outstanding corporate citizens. They’ve always been there… A model in this community, of the ways things should be done.”

Van Loan met Ken Simpson through politics – Ken’s “hobby” has been working on the political campaigns of Conservative candidates in the riding – and as a token, presented Ken with a notepad and book to help him make the “big, broad seismic leap” from business to retirement, and a journal for Ken’s wife Kathy, to chronicle the experience.

There were other gifts. The Array team presented each brother with an Inuit carving of a bear, a symbol of strength and leadership. They also each received a framed handsaw, reflecting their roots. 

Those roots date back to 1965, when the Simpson family moved to a farm in Gilford. That’s where the brothers learned the basics of hard work, dedication, and innovation, said Ken.

“It taught you about people, and about community,” and the importance those discussions around the kitchen table, said Ken.

Ken and Stephen thanked all who helped them along their journey, from high school teachers to Array employees, some of whom have been with them since the 1990s. And they thanked their wives and families, without whose support the successes of the past decades would not have been possible.

“For us, it’s all about the people,” said Ken. “The rest of it is just window dressing.”

“It’s been a pleasure to work with you all,” said Stephen.

In retirement, Ken plans to set up an office at his farm, spend more time with wife Kathy, their three children and four (soon to be five) grandchildren – and enjoy both his Harley Davidson, and the 1927 Model T Ford that was a gift from Stephen.

Stephen is looking forward to golf, setting up a “hobby” woodworking shop and new music studio, and travelling out west with wife Sheila by RV, to visit son Derek and explore Canada.

Both have a standing invitation to drop by Array Bradford, any time.

This article is submitted by Alison Goldman, marketing manager with Array, with notes from Miriam King.