For Tony Marino, optics is like a drug.
"It’s a disease," says Marino, 54, president of Advanced Glass Industries Inc. "Once you start working with glass, you can’t stop."
Rochester-based AGI is one of the world’s largest suppliers of precision-machined optical and molded glass blanks, or rough pieces, for customers worldwide. The firm employs 37 people.
Marino took over the top spot at the company, as well as controlling interest, in 1994.
What he enjoys most about the business is the complexity in the process of cutting glass and the longevity of the product.
"Glass lasts longer than any other man-made material," Marino says. "I enjoy working in this medium, making parts using a material that will be around longer than anything else."
Marino says he grew up dirt-poor in Greece. With no money for higher education, he took advantage of local schools and enrolled at Monroe Community College.
An avid picture taker, Marino originally was interested in photography and had plans to earn a degree in the field at MCC, then transfer his credits to Rochester Institute of Technology to hone his craft.
He hoped the education would be followed by a job taking pictures for either National Geographic or Playboy.
"Both had advantages," Marino says, "one for travel, the other for entertainment."
Along with his photography classes at MCC, Marino took optics courses and became interested in the field.
He worked at a gas station near MCC while attending the school and often would spend the night in the back of the building, wake up and go to his classes in the morning.
After graduating in 1975 with a degree in optics systems technology, Marino received few job offers in what was then a poor economy. His sole offer was for a job in California that paid $4.50 an hour-hardly enough to get by.
Still, Marino says he was through working low-paying jobs while attending school and was ready to join the working community.
Eventually Marino went to work for a newly formed local business, GlassFab Inc. He spent 18 years at GlassFab and became a minority owner. His jobs there ranged from foreman and plant manager to sales and vice president.
While he was at GlassFab, the company that is now AGI was going through various changes. It began as an optical molding firm called Fischer Optical, led by Henry Fischer.
Then it became part of Bunington Corp. and later HJF Optical during the 1970s and 1980s.
The company adopted its current name when Marino took the helm 14 years ago, after company leaders approached him to take a controlling interest there. Today Fischer’s grandson, John Fischer, is AGI’s vice president.
Marino and his partners, including Sales Manager Henry Lewis, immediately began expanding the business. A decade ago the operation was moved from Charlotte to its current location on Emerson Street.
AGI can mold or machine optical materials to configurations such as lenses, windows, discs, prisms, squares and rectangles. Its manufacturing capabilities include computer numerically controlled machining, drilling and grinding.
The firm’s precision-machined optical glass blanks and molded glass blanks are made of many material types, including fused quartz, fused silica, optical glass, Pyrex, filter glass, Zerodur and industrial glass.
Roughly 20 percent of the firm’s business is local.
A side business at AGI is buying used manufacturing and optics machines, such as CNC machines, and rebuilding them for resale. A small part of AGI’s business is supplying glass blanks to artists.
What looks like a typical 34,000-square-foot manufacturing plant on the outside is an art gallery of sorts inside at the front of the building. Glass sculptures by various artists who bought their glass from AGI are displayed on lighted shelves along the walls and continue into Marino’s office.
Like other firms, AGI has been hurt by the recession, Marino says. The company has downsized by a handful of people and cut hours from 55 a week to 40. Still, AGI does not carry a heavy debt load, so Marino says it is holding its own.
Marino declined to disclose revenue for the privately held firm but said sales have been falling since the third quarter of 2008.
"It’s the slowest time I’ve seen in the past 30 years," he says.
He also does not believe that the economic climate will improve anytime soon.
"When you read about a turnaround in the paper or see a story on TV, it’s a lie," he says, pointing out the window of the Emerson Street building, which is flanked by other firms. "The businesses here used to run two shifts. Now if you look at this street before 5 p.m. it’s a ghost town."
While Marino notes that his industry has been hit worldwide, he is not shy about expressing disgust with many entities that make it hard to do business in New York, including state leaders, utility companies, insurance firms and health maintenance organizations, all of which he says are raping New York manufacturers.
Dealing with the obstacles they create is the biggest challenge of his job, Marino says, and he is considering moving the business out of state because of the exorbitant expenses in New York.
Despite the challenges, Marino continues to work hard on growing AGI. A quarter of his day is focused on sales, and the rest depends on what needs to be done. He will run machines on the shop floor, help out with designs. He and the workers stay busy, Marino says.
"Everyone here wears a million hats," he says.
Marino, who wears an AGI polo shirt and jeans at the office, is not a typical corner-office executive.
"I respect everyone, and I think in turn they respect me," Marino says. "I think that’s how a business should be run."
Alycia Gionta, who works in sales at AGI, says Marino is a business leader and a teacher.
Now a 10-year employee, Gionta started at the company as a secretary with no optics experience. Marino helped her learn the business.
"Tony always says nothing is impossible," Gionta says. "He always figures out a way to get things done."
Michael Mandina, president and founder of Optimax Systems Inc. in Ontario, Wayne County, says Marino’s perspective on the world differs from most people’s and that trait has served him well.
"I don’t think of Tony as a business leader; I think of him more as a renegade," Mandina says. "If everyone is going to the right, Tony is going to the left."
Mandina says Marino knows how to analyze situations to find opportunities and then has the confidence to act.
"His track record demonstrates that he ends up being right most of the time," Mandina says.
Marino also supports his industry and his alma matter, Mandina says, noting that Marino is an avid supporter of the retooled optics program at MCC. He was one of the first to donate equipment to the lab.
James Sydor, president of Sydor Optics Inc., has known Marino since the late 1970s, and the two have remained friends.
"Tony is one of the most honest people I know," Sydor says.
The men have a lot in common: They both own local companies and married nurses. They have the same birthday, and they have children who share a birthday.
Sydor says Marino is fearless in business, taking on projects others might shake their heads at. He also is willing to invest in machinery to stay ahead of the competition.
"He loves those kinds of projects," Sydor says. "When someone tells Tony there’s something he can’t do, he goes ahead and does it."
Off the job
Outside of work, Sydor says, Marino has varied interests.
"I’m not sure of the exact definition of a Renaissance man, but I think it would be Tony," Sydor says. "He marches to a different drum just a little bit."
Marino is also altruistic, Sydor says; when the two have made money on an investment over the years, Marino often will urge him to donate to a worthy cause.
"I’m very happy to have him as one of my best friends," Sydor says.
Marino pursues a range of hobbies in his free time.
He recently served as builder of record on his home in Greece, where he lives with his wife, Barbara, a nurse who volunteers her services in the community. The couple has three grown children: daughters Anne, 25, and Mary, 18, and son Joseph, 23.
Being in the glass business helped with the building of his house, Marino says.
The residence features Pyrex countertops in the kitchen that contain light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which allow them to change colors. A trip to Japan for business led Marino to another find: two floor-to-ceiling lighted glass pillars, which weigh roughly 300 pounds each, that frame the entrance to the dining room.
With the house built, he now is constructing a Victorian shed in the yard.
In addition to all types of building projects, Marino enjoys stained glass and still takes pictures. Photos he has taken at various locations, including the Grand Canyon, are hung in his office.
Professionally, Marino’s passion-or as he calls it, addiction-for glass continues. He enjoys the challenge of the medium and admits to being a lifelong learner.
"By the time I’m 75, I may know what I’m doing," he says with a laugh.
Position: Dean, Wegmans School of Pharmacy, St. John Fisher College
Education: B.S. in chemistry, Wayne State College, 1979; Pharm.D., University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy, 1983
Family: Wife, Cynthia; daughter, Kim; son, Aaron
Activities: Golf, winter sports
Quote: "The beauty of what I get to do is that I never have to hear, ‘This is the way we’ve always done things.’"
10/02/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.