Handcrafting success

Notre Dame alum is comfortable with both global supply-chain management and woodworking.

When 2004 Notre Dame grad Paul Bonenberger got to Michigan State University as a freshman, he wasn't quite sure what he would major in although he knew it would be business-related. He also didn't know then that his interest in business would ultimately lead him to a successful career in global manufacturing and operations management as well as a second career as a business owner.

"I was undecided for my freshman year and focused on entering the Broad College of Business at MSU while I decided on a specialization," said Bonenberger, currently working in risk management at General Motors, while maintaining his own company, M1 Craft Co., which specializes in made-to-order home fixtures, tables, shelving, lighting fixtures and wall art.

Bonenberger got bit by the global supply-management bug when, as a student at MSU, he spent a summer abroad in Rome, Italy, participating in a program focusing on global interdependence. 

"Following that experience and my general interest in global business, I chose to focus on supply-chain and operations management, which eventually led to a bachelor's degree in supply-chain management," he said. Bonenberger then went on to receive an Oakland University MBA, which focused on operations management and entrepreneurship.

Well-prepared, thanks to Notre Dame

He credits Notre Dame with providing the proper study and time-management skills necessary to succeed both in college and in the workplace.

"My freshman year at Michigan State was a relatively easy transition," he recalled. "At NDP, time-management skills are essential and there are high academic expectations expected of students. As a result of the challenging NDP environment, I found freshman year at MSU to be relatively underwhelming. It actually allowed me to focus on academics and have more time for extracurriculars as well. By establishing 'good habits' before entering the college curriculum, i.e., from Notre Dame, I juggled these activities while maintaining my GPA."

Like all of Notre Dame's alumni, Bonenberger has a boatload of fond memories and recollections from his years in high school. But what comes to mind when asked about a favorite memory? "Father Joe’s [Hindelang] understated sarcasm is probably among what I miss the most," he said with perhaps a smidgeon of his own brand of sarcasm.

After graduating college, Bonenberger's first professional position was in logistics at General Dynamics Land Systems, where he assisted with the distribution and support of parts supply to teams positioned in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Following that job, he moved to an engineering company responsible for supporting the simulation and tooling of Chrysler’s Belvedere vehicle assembly plant. This gave him the opportunity to work in a hands-on position, learning about the vehicle-assembly process and the tooling used to ensure efficient plant operations and operator safety.

Bonenberger then spent 2012 to 2016 at Fiat Chrysler Automotive, managing the outbound supply chain to international customers in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and South America. 

"I experienced first-hand the global interdependencies of the automotive industry, and the dynamic environment that exists within global economies," he said. "At FCA, I was responsible for the performance of multiple warehouses around the world and was immersed in diverse cultures and business practices. This truly was an incredible experience."

Now at General Motors, he's working in a relatively new field within the manufacturing and production world, which gives him an opportunity to develop and implement newer tools to help manage business better in a highly competitive industry.

But if all that wasn't enough, Bonenberger decided he actually needed more to keep him occupied. Which, for someone with outstanding time-management skills, was no problem, of course.

TV show

About seven years ago, Bonenberger purchased and began renovating his first home, and in 2015, he began a full flip of another property he had purchased. 

"During those experiences, I learned that I really enjoyed woodworking, building and being hands-on with projects," he said. "This led me to the founding of M1 Craft Co., which was my opportunity to go through the process of founding and creating a brand, and creating a unique product that could appeal to a broad customer base. The opportunity to create something that becomes a fixture in someone’s home is an incredible feeling for me."

Also a bit incredible for Bonenberger was the fact that not even five months after establishing his company, he was asked to appear on a popular TV series that focused on entrepreneurs who are into handcrafting and marketing products for the home-goods market.

"There is a lot of value, perceived and actual, associated with having a handmade good in your home," he added. "It is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, and mistakes can happen when building any product, however, there is a level of satisfaction for the consumer knowing they are purchasing something that was built by someone’s bare hands, from start to finish."

'Naught without labor'

Because of its good online presence, Bonenberger's company grabbed the attention of the INSP Network, an American digital cable and satellite television channel that broadcasts family entertainment programming, and was featured on the network's show, "Handcrafted America." 

"My company was featured in season 3, episode 7," he said. "This was incredibly stressful and intimidating, but well worth it and an amazing experience. As a result, I’ve seen a drastic increase in order volume and it's given me the opportunity to further develop custom applications for my products."

He said that in addition to his healthy online sales, he's also sold products directly to several southeast Mich.-based businesses to furnish their sales space.

He's ecstatic about his early good fortune, but he doesn't for a minute suggest that anything other than hard work had anything to do with such extraordinary success.

"'Naught without labor' was one of the expressions I found on my fraternity crest in college," he said. "That, plus the single word 'onward,' which I've always kept in the back of my mind. They constantly remind me that there is no such thing as 'deserving' something; one must be willing to work much harder than expected to achieve incredible goals, and instead of reflecting on shortcomings, to keep pushing toward greater things."

Bonenberger plans to continue to grow M1 Craft Co. and to also continue as a risk-management professional. He said he may decide to pursue still more other ventures, too. 

"What will lead to the success of these things is the ability to continue to create value for customers," he said, "and to properly leverage risks to create a strong foundation and brand as needs change in the world around us."

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.