Rodrigo d’Escoto didn’t have grand plans to build a global enclosure company when he returned to Chicago in 1996 on the suggestion of his father, the owner of an engineering construction management group. But Chicago Public Schools had approved a $5 billion construction plan, including lots of work for minority-owned businesses, and there was plenty of opportunity.
“I kind of just walked around from trailer to construction site, kind of trying to hustle some work,” remembered d’Escoto, who is Hispanic. “I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do.”
It was one of those construction trailer conversations that started it all. Somebody asked d’Escoto if he wanted to be a window contractor. “I said, ‘Sure,’” he remembered. The business quickly grew. “That’s what happens when you’re out there hustling,” he said.
Today, Reflection Window + Wall, the business d’Escoto started after that jobsite conversation, is a booming Chicago-based architectural building enclosure company with projects across the country. The firm has closed $237 million of business in just the first six months of 2022, according to d’Escoto.
It hasn’t all been easy, however. The first years came with a huge learning curve, but d’Escoto has been up for the challenge, building a business that focuses on relationships, customer needs and product improvements. “People do business with people they like and trust,” he said. “They trust our product, and they trust us as a business.”
Starting out, d’Escoto sublet some space inside his father’s office and hung his shingle. “I wanted to be my own boss—having no idea what that really means,” he said.
There was plenty to learn. He’d never worked for a glazing contractor or manufacturer and hadn’t come up in the business, so he hadn’t learned the complex art and science of window installation. “There’s a tuition to pay in any business, and there’s a tremendous tuition to pay in the enclosure business,” d’Escoto said. “I’m self-taught the whole way.”
But the nuts and bolts of windows wasn’t the only class d’Escoto didn’t take. He also was lacking a few basic construction business skills such as how to read a contract or qualify a spec. Nevertheless, d’Escoto pressed on, growing his burgeoning business and building strong relationships with customers. But he also admits to being “young and naïve.”
“Because of my inability to read contracts and understand the scope of work and just, honestly, not knowing so much about the business, we had to file for bankruptcy,” he said. It was a fleeting setback, as d’Escoto’s work building those strong relationships eventually paid off. “We came back in, and I just came back out of it with all my customers,” he said. “They gave me all their work again.”
Reflection Window launched in 2001. Soon, it was logging its first towers in Chicago, then projects on the East and West Coast. And it was securing manufacturing partnerships and patents that improved on its work.
“You just got to push through, take your lumps and you got to get up and you got to go at it again,” d’Escoto said. “Every day we’re learning. Every day we’re growing. Every day we’re building.”
Today, Reflection is very much a 21st century operation, responding to customer needs and expectations with better products and new innovations.
The company’s engineers work across the globe—from San Francisco to Chicago and New York, to Spain, Mumbai and Shanghai. As the workday ends in one time zone, employees hand off assignments to the next. “By the time the sun comes back around, that work product, instead of taking three days to do, it’s taken one day to do because you’ve had engineers working on it for 24 hours,” said Joel Phelps, the company’s chief operations officer.
With an eye toward sustainability, the company is moving forward on plans for later this year to reduce the carbon footprint of its materials. Phelps said those plans will reduce the company’s carbon footprint to complete building facades by almost 90%.
As world events in recent years—particularly the COVID-19 pandemic—have highlighted the need to diversify supply chains, Reflection has been opening manufacturing bases domestically in Indianapolis and Dallas, and internationally in Mumbai, India.
Meanwhile, the company continues to innovate. In July 2022, Reflection received patents for a process that will reduce the amount of labor required to install curtain walls. “It’s a new kind of anchor design that we’ve developed over the last few months that allows us to install curtain wall with about half the labor,” Phelps said.
Global events and economics may be driving the innovation within the company. But, according to Phelps, that push to always do better and serve the industry comes from d’Escoto.
“He just loves people,” Phelps said. “It’s reflected in the way he treats his employees. It’s reflected in the way he treats his customers. Just having relationships with people and trying to be impactful in their lives and be significant—that’s really what drives the guy. And the business is the vehicle.”