Daughter of Founder Claims Succession of MHE Following Passing of Jim Newman
Mary Jane Fitzcharles, CEO of Manufactured Housing Enterprises Inc., has doubled the size of the family owned business since 2014, which was a pivotal time for the home builder and the family.
Built up from farmland beginning in 1965, Fitzcharles’ father, Jim Newman, was the catalyst until his untimely death in 2014. Waiting in the wings was his daughter, who had long worked for Ohio’s largest manufactured home builder, but only reluctantly saw herself as the organization’s leader.
“He really was preparing me to run the business, and I never realized it,” Fitzcharles said of her father, with whom she enjoyed a loving and redeeming relationship. “When dad passed, I not only lost a father and a boss, he was also a best friend. Dad and I were very close.
“I never looked at it in a way that I would or wouldn’t run it,” she said. “I took each lesson that he taught with the idea that I was a lucky recipient of his knowledge.”
A Lifetime at the Plant
Fitzcharles grew up at the MHE plant. The family home with all nine kids was located in front of the business until 1971. When they moved, the original home became the “curtain shop,” where linens were made by Mary Jane’s grandmother for the homes they built.
Mary Jane started working at the plant in 1980, sweeping and cleaning, mowing the yards, painting shelves and baling scrap.
She began work in the office when she was a freshman in high school. Mary Jane worked each summer, and upon graduation in 1984 started full time.
“I worked in several different areas, just going wherever anyone needed me…. in HR, service, parts, answered phones, filed,” she said. “I moved around and got a little taste of a lot of different areas. And then I was transferred to the upstairs offices to be dad’s secretary, to be the office manager, and work in our accounting department.”
An Experience Learning in Life
Mary Jane’s education involved attending a vocational school during her high school years and being taught by her father.
“It seemed like every day there was a new lesson learned,” Fitzcharles said. “It has always been a conversation piece at work that being taught by Jim Newman was better than any college education you could get. The hands-on education he provided has been priceless to all of us at MHE.”
Jim never attended college, and was very successful in business. A college education was not important to him or necessary for any of his employees, Fitzcharles said. All nine of the Newman kids worked at the plant at one time or another. Mary Jane’s sister, Charlie, continues to work in quality control and dispatch.
Still, Fitzcharles at one point took on added work, for a time, beyond her father’s knowledge.
“I went to work for a trucking company, dispatching four hours a night without telling him. I needed more money,” she said. “But when they offered me a promotion to manage the terminal and go full time, this would conflict with my work hours at MHE so I had to tell my dad … and he gave me a raise to $10 per hour.”
Taking the Leadership Role with MHE
MHE produced more than 1,200 floors in 2018, an uptick of about 20 percent from the year prior. In that mix, 45 percent are single-section homes. Thirty eight percent are multi-section, and 17 percent of what the company builds is modular.
“We build five floors a day, working Monday through Friday. I am a big believer in family time, so we don’t have our people work on Saturdays or Sundays,” Fitzcharles said. MHE employs 150 workers.
“From the weekends when I was little, we would have to go through and clean the shop, sweep and make sure the place was in good shape for Monday when the workers came back in … Now, each department is responsible for its own cleanup. How the process has changed and the homes themselves have changed over time,” Fitzcharles said with a laugh.
Taking Hold of Sales and Production
While most of her experience prior to her father’s death was in accounting, the last four-plus years have been a rush of learning the production and sales side of the business.
“If I had it to do over and could pick the office or the factory, I wouldn’t have changed it. But I would have spent a little more time in the production facilities,” Fitzcharles said. “Learning the finance side of the business in detail first has been very good for me and for all of us at MHE.”
However, she credits Vice President Nathan Kimpel and several other key employees at MHE for their patience and the education they’ve provided her during her transition to leadership in manufactured housing.
“I have such an amazing team with me,” Fitzcharles said. “They all have been very good to me. It’s really humbling that so many people stood by me and have helped to make MHE a continued success. I don’t think it could have happened without the good Lord and so many people on my side.”
MHE Homes in the Production Environment
The MHE facility is more than a dozen structures on 80 acres of the original property. Originally, it was a parcel where her father would sell pre-owned mobile homes and used cars.
“He sold used mobile homes and thought, ‘Gosh, if I can sell used mobile homes, I can build new ones.’ He built Plant No. 1, became incorporated and started building new homes,” she said.
A Business About Family
Mary Jane Fitzcharles and her husband Terry have two sons and six grandchildren. Throughout the course of her day, she has her mind on family. She thinks about her childhood, her father, about the families of MHE employees. And, of course, she thinks about the families who will buy and live in MHE homes.
“Dad was a very positive person and he taught all of us that you have to keep a positive attitude. He was always a believer in no-debt, and we’ve been able to sustain that, which I feel good about. He always said if you take care of the little problems, you won’t have very many big problems. I have a good relationship and an ‘open door’ policy with our employees, and the dealers know they can call me anytime. I feel communication is an important piece of the puzzle at MHE.”
About The Louisville Manufactured Housing Show
Mary Jane said she attended The Louisville Show for the first time in about 2009. Her father urged her to go again at least one more time. On a normal year, she would have stayed back at the office and kept things running while the others were at the show.
“The year before he died he told me I needed to go to the show in January,” she said. “They always say that people kind of know when they’re going … and then that following May he was gone.”
While she continues to verse herself on the nature of production and sales, Mary Jane Fitzcharles has goals of her own. Goals that would make her father proud.
“It was a real challenge when Dad passed away to take over that part, but I jumped in with both feet. We have a great team out there and they’ve helped me tremendously,” Fitzcharles said. “I want to continue growing our business. Since 2014 we’ve doubled our production here, and I want to continue with that pace or more. But more so, we need to make sure we continue to make a high-quality, affordable product and provide a great place to work.”
“I can’t say I ever really thought about going anywhere else. I’ve always really enjoyed my work. I like the challenge and it’s great to come to work every day. But did I ever think I’d be where I’m sitting today? Never.” — MHE Inc. CEO Mary Jane Fitzcharles.