Above and Below the Surface
It’s All About Family Making Dreams a Reality at M S International, Inc.
“Making Dream Surfaces Attainable”—the mission statement for M S International, Inc. (MSI)— forms the foundation of its company culture.
For customers in North America, MSI consistently tries to make surfacing products, such as countertops, flooring, wall tiles and hardscaping, reasonably priced and accessible so every home can become a dream home. “But that’s not the only way MSI makes dreams feasible,” Rajesh (Raj) Shah, Co-President of MSI, says.
How the First Dream Began
Forty-four years ago, Manu and Rika Shah (MSI founders) started the company in the basement of their home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “My dad was an engineer and my mom, a school teacher by trade,” Shah says. After Mom had me, she wanted to develop a business that she could do from home, She started importing blocks of stone from India and selling them to factories in the U.S. Using direct shipping, she could do all the paperwork at home.”
Touching Lives Exponentially
Now headquartered in Orange, California, MSI has created a ton of jobs—employing 1,800 to 2,000 people all over the U.S. and Canada. Internationally, the company has generated about 130,000 jobs. “Consider that those 130,000 employees support extended families, and the number grows exponentially,” Shah says. “We are proud of the fact we help support many inhabitants across the world—most of them come from rural areas in developing nations. They wouldn’t have a chance otherwise,” he continues. “And our goal is to expand.”
“After identifying the products that the North American consumer wants, we bring them to market in a very big way, because we believe volume makes the difference,” Shah says. MSI won’t get into niche products, but it sources items that will fit into the mass market, thus changing the dynamics of those products. So, following trends and sourcing are a big part of what MSI does, along with merchandising and marketing those products.
“Most people in the industry intentionally make products more expensive in order to achieve higher profits,” Shah says. “We make them more affordable and reachable so we can increase the size of the pie—that’s really where the riches are found.”
Back in the 1970s and ‘80s, granite countertops were mostly for the wealthy. Today, MSI’s philosophy has resulted in granite countertops becoming a standard even in relatively low-cost housing.
A Focus on Family Dynamics
“My brother, Rupesh, and I are Co-Presidents, but Mom and Dad are still active in the company,” Shah says. “Obviously, we are a family business, but we are also a family-oriented business. That is primary for us. Hardworking, energetic and motivated is kind of the ante to the game at any job; but truthfully, what makes our group special is buying into the vision of making other people’s lives better—including their own relatives.”
The focus on the MSI family is comprehensive—making everyone within the company a priority. From discipline and flexibility standpoints, MSI works with all its employees and builds them—hardly ever terminating anyone. If a supervisor expresses frustration with someone, the company looks at the situation from all perspectives. Then, the leaders decide whether to retrain a person or find a different position where that person’s strengths can be better used. “Our employees come to work without worrying that they might lose their jobs. They know they’re employed for the long term, providing they try hard,” Shah says.
Reaching Out Worldwide
“Our family is very philanthropic by nature. Our expectation is that we help the communities that have made us successful,” Shah says. A matching plan encourages MSI employees to reach out to their neighborhoods—changing emphasis in each local area. For instance, MSI employees and the MSI Charitable Trust joined forces to help those in the Houston area affected by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. In another case, by donating to the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment (R.I.S.E.) program, MSI supplied surfacing materials for a new home for a wounded veteran and his family in McKinney, Texas.
Overseas vendors have developed schools in their areas and provided local children with the latest educational materials. Another focal point has been to build training centers for local youth in India. Learning a trade will make them employable and offers the potential to change the trajectory of their family, Shah notes.
MSI also has a wellness program to take care of the health of its employees, with the hope that the education provided goes back home and into the community. Their program includes Healthy Lunch Monday and various health seminars. After establishing a non-smoking policy at all its facilities, MSI has also been instrumental in helping some drop the habit.
“We do quite a bit of team building locally. We also have our strategic annual meeting,” Shah says. This year, all MSI leaders gathered in Atlanta, and enjoyed their own Beach Olympics.
“We have all kinds of things going on—yoga, cardio exercises, group runs, etc.,” Shah says. Safety is a big part of the MSI culture, too. The firm wants employees and their families to be safe and well, which is why health, vision, dental and life insurance are all part of the company benefits plan. “But I think the best benefit is the working environment,” Shah says. “People fall in love with working here and they love the fact that MSI products show up everywhere.”
Re-Engineering the Future
A few of the prominent public places that feature MSI products are the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial and various other war memorials around the country. The company also supplied the granite for the Space Mirror Memorial by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation in Florida and Richard Nixon’s Gravesite tombstone. The list goes on as the company grows. “The growth is in the DNA of us all, and that brings a lot of energy to our employees,” Shah says.
“We re-engineer what we do daily—whether it involves the product, the freight, the processes, the systems or the communications—to see how we can make our surfacing product more affordable and available,” Shah adds. “Everyone at MSI is committed to the mission of making quality surfaces within reach and also making hopes for the future come to fruition—for employees and consumers alike.”