Norcross devotes formidable amounts of his time, energy and money to philanthropic causes. Mark has joined the ranks of other business people, including jeweler Nancy Davis, to raise money for research and treatment for Multiple Sclerosis. This is particularly dear to him, as his wife, Rena, suffers from this debilitating disease. “MS is very important cause to me,” he says. “It affects so many people. Fortunately, a lot of people are dedicated to fighting it.”
Looking around at all the good work that could be accomplished he and his wife created the Mark and Rena Norcross Family Foundation to support causes close to their hearts, including the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school located in High Point, North Carolina. “It will be renamed the Mark and Rena Norcross School of Education,” he says proudly. “It will be one of the few schools where kids that age can learn Chinese.”
Boundlessly enthusiastic about education and its role in the community. In addition, Mark Norcross recently made a $10 million contribution to new High Point University. This close-knit community was once the furniture manufacturing capitol of the US The industry has eroded to such an extent that Mark David is one of the few remaining furniture companies in the area. By helping to build the university, Norcross believes he is helping to rebuild the economic base of the town and the region. It is nothing less than a reaffirmation of his belief in Mark Norcross wants to make the world a better place. The president and CEO of Mark David, the
High Point, North Carolina–based furniture company, understands the hospitality industry from both sides: as an international traveler whose brief takes him from Beverly Hills to Beijing and as the supplier the American Dream.
“High Point University is small—4,500 students—but it has a global reach. There are students enrolled from 52 different countries. It offers its students a high level of service and amenities, and it inculcates values of good business practice, philanthropy and giving back.” Students get exposure to the example of successful business people and political figures that come to speak on campus, including Steve Forbes and Queen Noor of Jordan.
His involvement with the university came about through his business association and friendship with Dr. Nido Qubein. “We’ve been friends for years,” Mark explains. “I rented a space from him when I started my business back in 1985.”
Dr. Qubein, an author, businessman and motivational speaker, has been the president of High Point University since 2005. Under his leadership, the school has doubled the size of its campus, and invested $675 million in hiring new faculty and upgrading its physical plant. He and Mark share a passionate dedication to education and its role in the future.
“I don’t think people see education as a low priority,” says Dr. Qubein. “We believe that colleges need to make the case that they are able to accommodate the needs of young people and have the ability to serve their ambitions.”
He laments many of the lowbrow preoccupations that seem to absorb the attention of the culture at large and hopes that a school like High Point University can help to stem the encroaching tide of philistinism. “Our population at large has become influenced by the lazy, the mundane programming that is so pervasive in the media,” says the university president. “So much attention is lavished on people and things that are not examples of excellence. Our society has not done a great job of making intellectual life palatable. We have to show people how education adds spice and fervor to life.”
In order to share that spice and fervor with the larger High Point community, Dr. Qubein and the High Point University administrators use the school’s resources to enrich the town as a whole. “We hold concerts, lectures, cultural events that are open to the public for the benefit of the entire community, not just the school,” says Dr. Qubein.
By expanding High Point University, Mark Norcross and Dr. Qubein hope to restore some of the opportunities and prosperity that have left not only the town of High Point but also the entire region and beyond. Dr. Qubein explains, “We want our graduates to become healers, role models and mentors to people, businesses and institutions.”
BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE,
A FITTING FAMILY LEGACY
Mark Norcross is able to give back because of his leadership in building the quality and future of furniture in the US Norcross’ travels take him to far-flung places but his company remains grounded in High Point, North Carolina, where furniture making has a long history and tradition. Mark David still employs people locally as the nexus of an international furniture empire built on quality, craftsmanship, elegant design and service. In 2008, the Kohler Company acquired Mark David, “I am a senior consultant to Kohler, blending all of the Kohler brands into the hospitality industry,” says Norcross. “Kohler is a family-owned business. When the company was up for sale, it was a choice between them and a private equity company. They have a passion for brands and a passion for excellence. They buy companies and hold them. Mark David will be a part of their portfolio for generations to come.”
He is thrilled to be in business with partners who share his vision and his values. “Herb Kohler is the Chairman; his son David is the President, and his daughter Rachel is the President of Interiors. Her sister Laura is the Vice President of Human Resources. They’re all great people, with solid, Midwestern values. It’s great working with them and the terrific brands under the Kohler umbrella:
Ann Sacks tile is a Kohler company and so is Kallista. They own the Kohler resort in Wisconsin, where the PGA plays, Hamilton Hall in Scotland, and the old course hotel at St. Andrews.”
Confident that his family’s legacy is secure, Mark Norcross is expanding and experimenting. Mark David is amplifying its global presence, opening its first satellite in Asia in 2009. Located in the Kohler showroom in Shanghai, it allows designers and purchasing agents working for Asia’s rapidly expanding hotel and hospitality industry to experience the quality and craftsmanship of Mark David furniture in a brand-new context.
“Mark David has offices in China, and a huge supply chain there,” explains Norcross. “We sell to the trade there—hotels and restaurants, nightclubs and country clubs. Our customer base in China, as in Europe and America, consists of hotel owners who, in turn, hire interior designers and purchasing agents. We market to them.”
The process of building fascinates Norcross, who trained as an industrial engineer. “I love the intrigue of working on a project from the ground up,” he says. Starting with the conceptual drawings through construction all the way up to the end product ... the different dynamics it takes and the changes it goes through fascinated me and still does.”
Currently, The Mark David Company is at work on more than 300 projects around the world. “We’re furnishing a hotel called the Shangri-La, a Ritz Carlton and a JW Marriott, all in India; some smaller hotels in Bahrain; a Hilton in Jeddah; and the Wynn Resort and Casino in Macao. In a bust-out property like the Wynn, it’s a constant process of replacement and expansion,” he explains. “They needed more baccarat chairs.”
Mark Norcross works with some of the world’s top interior designers, including design director of Wynn Resorts Roger Thomas, New York’s David Rockwell, and Sue Firestone of SFA in Santa Barbara, to create extraordinary environments for hotel guests. “Steve Wynn personally approves every detail,” says Norcross. “Every piece of furniture, every fitting. Roger Thomas is meticulous. He makes his selections and then takes his choices to Steve Wynn who gives final approval. No detail is too small for him and nothing escapes his scrutiny.” Being able to satisfy such exacting clients is a deep source of pride for Norcross. “You’ll be able to buy the Mark David desk chair in the Wynn retail shops,” he says.
“If you can’t sit down with someone like Roger Thomas or Margaret McMahon of WATG in New York, highly professional people who want to create a special environment for their demanding clientele, you cannot survive in this business,” says Norcross. “Today, a hotel is an experience. In the past, you checked in, you put down your bags, and you got a bed and a bathroom: a place to sleep, shower and shave. Now, people want more; they want everything to be extraordinary.”
The luxury hotel and resort market his company serves is constantly raising the performance bar and Mark David keeps up with innovative styling and technology. “We’re developing a ‘techno panel’ for a hotel in New York called the Yotel,” the company president explains. “It‘s made of white lacquer and natural wood, and it will control the television and sound system for your room. When you enter the room, it will look like a suite with a sofa that will turn into a bed mechanically. It’s silent. You touch a button and it will unfold itself without making a sound.”
His experience furnishing hotels around the world has shown him the changing and diverse nature of travel today. “More Asians are traveling to North America,” Norcross observes. “It’s helping the hospitality industry in the US. We have to ask ourselves, ‘What does a Chinese traveler want in a hotel room? What does an Indian traveler want?’ We want to adapt to their needs. We need to recognize the world travelers coming into our hotels and meet their needs. It’s all about respect and that is always my approach. It’s essential to adapt to their dietary and cultural attitudes. Not everybody wants cheeseburgers and chicken!”
The process is much the same when building and furnishing hotels abroad. “India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and China are the biggest new markets for hotels,” says Norcross. “They are great opportunities because of their growing prosperity and sophistication. They are going through their version of our Industrial evolution.”
“If you have a good name and a good brand, designers want to work with you,” he says. “Reputation is everything.” With furniture and philanthropy, Mark Norcross’ life comes full circle, giving back and showing gratitude for the success he has enjoyed, and guiding others towards similar success. “I still have my day job,” he says, “but I have been working for 35 years, and now it’s time to stretch beyond furniture and ‘give back’.” ≤