a Glass Brightly!"*
Since Bill & Kitty Job arrived in Xiamen in 1987, their vision and innovative techniques have virtually transformed the global glass industry, and at the same time they've brought about changes to Fujian as well by providing employment opportunities to villagers in impoverished mountain regions.
The Meixia company, Xiamen’s first solely foreign-owned enterprise, grew from a modest investment of $10,000 in 1988 to an estimated worth of over $2 million by 2000. A 1992 Wall Street Journal recognized Bill Job as a “pioneer business spirit and innovative artist,” and a leader in the stained glass industry.
Bill Job's unique woven "Job Glass®", made from scrap that he once paid to have carted off and buried, is one of the most innovative types of glass to be produced in centuries, and some of Job’s production techniques are far ahead of any other firm.
During the 1990s, Job’s innovations helped spawn an entire new industry of stained glass handicrafts. Thousands of avid Bill Job enthusiasts and collectors anxiously awaited each new edition of Job’s glass lighthouses, miniature cottages, or Disney theme products. But Bill Job learned that too great a demand could be almost as worrisome as too small a demand. When demand outstripped supply, competitors sprang up out of the woodworks to meet that demand. To his chagrin, Job not only created both the industry and his competition, but in some cases also trained them to compete against him!
Bill Job was born in Tennessee in 1948, and after two years of college spent 4 years in the Navy. In 1972, just before leaving the Navy, he spent several days in Hong Kong, which wet his appetite for the Orient and China. “Job recounts,
“I was overwhelmed by our Western arrogance of
such a great country. I felt the Chinese are so willing to learn about
us, but we Americans aren’t as ready to learn about China. It wasn’t
right, and I decided to do something in China myself.”
Mexia was born in March 1988 when Bill got a license
to produce fish flies, wood products, and glass products. He chose such
an unorthodox combination of products because he had an immediate market
for fish flies, and glass was a labor-intensive field that he suspected
would eventually have a good market. But Bill did not even qualify as
an amateur glassmaker. Asked what he knew about glass making, he responded,
“Not a thing. I took a short course and read books.”
The expert that Bill had brought in from the states to advise him was surprised to have a nicely dressed young girl show up on his doorstep one day and ask him to have lunch with a Chinese businessman. It turned out he was trying to lure the expert away from Meixia; it wasn’t the last time that Job had to cope with competitors, from both China and America, stealing not only expertise but actual designs.
When the beveled glass business failed, Bill Job turned to sand blasting. He knew nothing about sand blasting, but he read some books on it, constructed his own blasting equipment, and began turning out designs. He trained people left and right, only to have them leave his own employee and begin their own sandblasting businesses. Some of them actually made bids using Meixia’s name, and put the Meixia name on their company doors. Job recalls, “I would have done better off training people to go into business, and charging them Y 10,000 each for the training!”
Meixia survived for several months on sandblasting, but an order from the Fuzhou Telecommunications Office was Meixia’s ticket into the glass industry. They commissioned Bill Job to produce two large glass murals. He in turn hired a Chinese artist from Gulangyu to design it. He earned enough from this job to import extra stained glass, which he used to produce museum quality reproductions of Tiffany lampshades.
Shortly afterwards, a medical doctor from the states passed through Xiamen, ordered an entire container load of quality glass lamp shades, and gave Meixia one year to make them. This one year grace period also gave Job the opportunity to perfect the glass skills needed.
Drucker’s book taught Job to reevaluate his strengths
and to try to do something new that the market could respond to. Bill
Job said, “Drucker also stressed being the best in the world at
something. I thought about it, and reasoned that many people in the states
were collecting ceramic or porcelain miniature houses with tiny lights
within—but you could only see the lights from the small windows
or doors. If I made similar houses from glass, the entire house would
In January 1993, armed with samples of his new product, Job attended the L.A. Gift Show, where he met a man looking for a product to market. After several others had evaluated the concept, the two men shook hands and went to work—only to find they could not keep up with demand.
During the gift show, David, the marketer, lost five
pounds during the 3 days that he wrote orders nonstop. Within one month,
they had enough orders to keep the firm busy for an entire year. Job said,
Niche Within a Niche
To survive, Job now had to find something to set his product apart, to add a distinctive competence that would give him a niche within his newly created niche. He hit upon the idea of using pewter castings and glass fusing capability to add details that the competition claimed were impossible to accomplish.
After seven years in that market, Job was recognized by many as the best in the world, but he was plagued throughout the years by marketing companies that grew, became unstable, and failed because of their own short-sighted policies. Job said, “They over extended us, and treated people badly..."
Job has also had trouble maintaining the integrity of
the collectible market. Job’s collectible products increase in value
because he limits their production and refuses to discount them. Unfortunately,
one newly designed piece on his office desk was stolen by a visitor, who
returned to America, set up a factory, and sold the mass-produced discounted
copies to a mammoth American retailer, which in turn sold them across
America at bargain-basement prices.
In spite of the ‘strong message,’ subsequent years witnessed a decline in the collectibles market, but Job continued to innovate, creating not only new products but new materials and production processes as well. Job said, “I have a principle: always think of why things are done one way, when a better way could be thought of.”
Taiwanese lamp makers their lampshades in 3 parts, but the joints were large, and the lamps were not round. Bill suggested making the lamp around a mould, but was told, “That’s foolish. You would not be able to get the lamp off the mould.”
“Use a mould that can break down,” Job countered (probably unaware that the Egyptians had used a similar technique thousands of years ago). Within three hours Job had developed a cheap, simple plaster mould, and a technique that is now used in almost every glass lamp factory in Asia.
Another problem that vexed Job was scrap glass. He used to pay a firm to haul it off by the truckload and bury it. The glass experts all affirmed that the multi-colored scraps of glass were useless, but Job continued to experiment on ways to avoid the waste; he was also concerned about the environmental issues. He finally hit upon Job Glass®, one of the most novel glass materials to hit the industry in decades. The idea was such a hit that Job quickly ran out of scrap glass and had to buy the ‘useless’ waste from other companies.
Job Glass®, which resembles plaid or plain fabric, is made by weaving together strips of ‘spaghetti’ glass and fusing them at high temperature. It sounds simple enough, but the technological obstacles to overcome were formidable for a man who, when he began in the glass industry, wasn’t even at hobbyist level. Job turned once again to books. He experimented with various techniques, and different temperatures. Ever inventive, he solved the problem of how to produce uniform flat ribbons of glass by using a Chinese noodle maker that he bought on the street for about $35.
Job used his newly created accent glass to produce lampshades, and after visiting several lampshade manufacturers, he had enough orders to offset the decline in collectible houses. While Job enjoyed the artistic accomplishment from designing the collectibles, they were too labor intensive, had lower profits, and a smaller market than products like lampshades.
Job Glass® turned out to have other uses as well. Meixia produces woven glass bowls, and unique candleholders produced by simply allowing a square of Job Glass to melt over a support. Job Glass® photo frames have also become popular, and are sold with other choice products over the Internet (the frames, of course, sport photos of the Jobs’ two daughters).
Job Glass® Products
Innovations like the plaster mould technique, and using a $35 noodle maker to produce Job Glass®, are simple but they work. Job said, “Always go with simplicity if it achieves the desired results….Of course, simplicity is a waste of time if it doesn’t work.”
Meixia’s unique capabilities has helped the firm land accounts with companies like Coca-Cola and Disney. Disney mailed him a photo of a Disney collectible house that they wanted produced in glass, and asked for a sample. Unfortunately, it was technically impossible to produce the product to their specifications. Bill tackled the project anyway, for as he said, “I am always thinking about solving problems.”
One problem was how to shape flat stained glass into curves,
and heat it to blend or fuse together without destroying the glass or
bleeding the colors. Job took a two-week crash course in the U.S. on glass-making
processes. Glass experts told Job that what he was after was impossible,
so he returned to Xiamen, and after two years of experimenting and developing
new equipment and production techniques, Job was able to produce the collectibles
to Disney’s impossible specifications. From this experience he developed
another of his personal principles:
From Arts Full Circle to Architecture
Meixia is slowly turning from the gift market back full circle to what stained glass was once all about – windows. But Job has innovated there as well.
The size and applications of stained glass windows was limited by their relative fragility and by safety considerations. Job has solved that problem by producing large, custom designed stained glass windows sandwiched between two sheets of safety glass, making the product safe enough for any application, whether industrial or in the home.
One of Meixia’s newest projects is a six meter long
glass window for a new building in Texas. The project amazes architects,
who have never seen anything like it before, and are excited about the
new horizons in design that the technology opens up. Job believes that
just about anything an artist can design he can produce in glass, and
envisions entire glass buildings covered in custom-designed glass vistas.
Job is also contacting designers for hotels and restaurants, and has ideas on the drawing board for stained glass furniture.
Computer-designed and executed stained glass allows Job to create calligraphic designs not possible by hand-cutting alone. He negotiated with a famous American calligrapher to produce a series of calligraphic glass panels, and now he's applying his creativity and technical wizardrly to full-size architectural wonders like the 1st United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (U.S.A.). The unique Meixia inlaid glass technique was used to create over 800 square feet of Byzantine-inspired stained glass. A newspaper article about the church quoted one person as saying, "We are all pretty overwhelmed by the beauty of it and stateliness of it and all."
One of the big limitations that has accompanied Job’s
striving for newer technology is the increasing overhead. Many orders
for relatively simple products are now not feasible economically because
Meixia increasingly specializes in complex glass products that other glass
companies cannot produce.
For more information on Meixia, see the website at http://www.meixia.com
The Development of the Glass Industry
It seems that everything today is Made in China, and everything yesterday was Invented in China—but glass was a Western invention. Or Middle Eastern, to be exact.
Blue glass found at Eridu dates from before 2200, and a green glass rod found in Babylonia may go back as early as 2600 B.C. But the first glass objects found so far are glass beads from Egypt (2500 BC). The first glass vessels were also made in Egypt, from about 1448 onwards.
Egypt’s unique core-wound glass vessels were built
upon removable clay molds to which a metal rod was attached. A comb-like
instrument was used to coil threads of glass in zigzag, feather or arcade
patterns around the vessel, rolled flush with the surface, and the vessel
was then fired. [Ironically, one of Bill Job’s innovative molding
techniques, which has been adopted by most Asian glass firms, also uses
collapsible molds, proving that the old ways are sometimes the best].
The Advent of Stained Glass
Modern Stained Glass as Art
Note: "Through a glass brightly" is a play on words on the Biblica verse, 1 Cor. 13:12, "For now we see through a glass [mirror] darkly [obscure]; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Darkly in Greek =
Last revised: April 12, 2004
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Last Updated October 2006
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