Our Stories

Shaping His Companies’ Futures

For Steve Gruver, it started with an EMBA project team

Steve Gruver
President, Shapes Unlimited Inc.

Vanderbilt Executive MBA 2001

Steve Gruver knew the value of mixing school and work. While earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, he worked for Grumman through a co-op program.

Eight years later, and now running his own business near Nashville, Steve discovered a different mix of school and work. He allowed a group of Vanderbilt Executive MBA students to use his company, Orchid International, as the subject of its final strategy project.

“I was impressed with them and the tools they were using to analyze our company,” Steve recalls. “The group’s final presentation blew me away. After that experience, I was sold. I needed to try to get into that program.”

Steve’s 2001 degree turned him from an engineer into a businessman at just the right time. Orchid originally provided custom automation, designing and building quick die change systems for smaller presses and tooling, primarily in the appliance industry. Gradually, the company moved into other automation for metal stamping.

When Steve applied to Vanderbilt, Orchid was dealing with investors, acquisitions and an eventual realignment. “The majority of my time was spent growing and managing the business,” he says. “An Executive MBA program made good sense.” Eventually, three other Orchid executives also earned Vanderbilt business degrees.

“It was challenging to balance the workload, but immediately applying what I learned made the process very enjoyable and rewarding,” Steve says. “The class was divided into small groups. As a team, we worked very well together, and the team provided a support system for us to get through the challenging times.”

In 2016, Steve successfully sold the company to Teknia International. And then he took on a new challenge in a new place, becoming President of Shapes Unlimited, a distributor of ornamental fencing, hand railing products and screen systems for replacement windows.

Under Gruver’s leadership, the company diversified its product line, made new capital investments, expanded staff to improve service and response times, planned an additional location to serve a growing customer base in the Southeast, and streamlined workflows in a way that reduced product returns by 70 percent.

“My biggest takeaway on my career journey is my appreciation and recognition for the people I met along the way and for the people who support our business,” Steve says. “There is such power within a group of people working together toward a common goal. People have ideas and ambitions and want to contribute and make a difference."

“It was challenging to balance the workload, but immediately applying what I learned made the process very enjoyable and rewarding.”