It's a lot to bite off when a company embraces a value that states: "We are in business forever." So far, though,  Elkay Manufacturing, the Downers Grove, Illinois-based producer of residential sinks, high-end plumbing, and commercial kitchens, as well as bottle-fill stations and water fountains, has taken some profitable steps toward realizing that ambition. Consider: Next year will be its 100th anniversary

"When they recruited me, I really wondered about that 'in-business-forever' line, as everyone does," says CEO Tim Jahnke, who joined the company in 2007 after 22 years at Newell Rubbermaid. "When discussions got serious, I came to realize that it wasn't the typical B.S. that companies put up on the wall."

The 2,500-employee outfit that Leopold Katz (L-K, get it?) and his son Louis founded in 1920 on Chicago's North Side operates in sectors populated by imposing competitors like  Kohler, Moen, and Delta Faucet. And Elkay--whose popular sink brands include Harmony, Lustertone, and Dayton--must ceaselessly grapple with shifting consumer demand as well as cyclical construction markets. It's a high-growth, high-margin industry during good times, but a serial bankrupter in bad.

For now, prospects appear quite shiny. Elkay booked close to $1 billion in 2018 revenue and, beyond surviving the Great Depression and numerous recessions, has earned a reputation for strong financial results, savvy expansion, and timely new-product development. Says Jahnke: "We honestly try to do what's right for our brands, our people, our customers, and our suppliers." The motto, he adds, "truthfully represents who we are."

Remaining a closely held outfit with evident survival skills--executive chairman and former CEO Ron Katz, 83, is Leopold's grandson--has advantages. "We're not scared of a down year," says Ted Hamilton, a fifth-generation Katz family member and head of Elkay's key plumbing division. "We can take the time to build foundations for our products."

That approach recently led Elkay to what hydrologists and economists might call a watershed moment. The company is diving deep into H2O, including its sourcing, purification, delivery, and storage. One such investment is in SunToWater Technologies of Richardson, Texas, which is developing technology to squeeze fresh water from humidity. In an increasingly water-short world, it's a smart gamble that could help Elkay thrive...if not quite forever, then at least for decades to come.

From the October 2019 issue of Inc. Magazine