Progressive Company Sticks to Its Roots
By Kate Parrott
MK Diamond Products Inc. has changed quite a bit over the years. Beginning as a marble mill in 1868, the company has evolved over the past 138 years into a specialized leader in masonry, stone, concrete, tile and lapidary saws, diamond blades, coring bits and other precision power cutting tools.
MK family group picture (Robert and Brian Delahaut standing front and center)
Machine shop located in the MK main building
This old adage began in the mid 1800s with Joseph Musto, a hard-working man who imported marble from Italy through the ports of San Francisco. The transition from importer to precision cutting first began when the imported slabs were too big for use.
"They realized that the marble sizes they were bringing in were not sized correctly for the homes and buildings that were being built," Brian explained. "So he ended up bringing blocks of marble in and cut them down by Fisherman's Wharf. And that established the Musto Steam Marble Mill company."
During World War II, the Germans developed diamond blade manufacturing techniques. This technology was brought over from Germany to the South Bay area of Los Angeles, which became a hub for diamond blade manufacturing in the United States. MK Diamond - at this point called Musto Industries - seized the opportunity and became a manufacturer of the diamond blades.
Tile assembly line and parts department located in the MK main building
Masonry assembly line located in the MK north building
After several changes of hands, Robert Delahaut and Richard Rice became the sole proprietors in 1982. Recognizing the two families that had owned the company previously - Musto and Kennan - MK Diamond Products was born.
"Primarily, it was my father's vision - becoming an equipment manufacturer, focusing on equipment, and focusing on the masonry industry - that the company began to get some legs and establish itself," Brian said.
"We cover many different markets now," he added. "We tend to think of ourselves as a progressive company, always striving to come up with some new ideas.
"We're not the biggest in the industry, by any stretch of the imagination, but what we do within those channels, such as tile and masonry, which are two main focuses, we do well."
Commitment to Innovation
MK-762 DMX diamond blade
BX-4® 14-1/2 inch wet cutting masonry saw
In January 2005, MK Diamond introduced a revolutionary new blade - the Diamatrix, or DMX. This product utilizes positive diamond placement, which physically arranges the diamonds to the orientation of the cut direction and aligns them by row. Brian explained that positive placement creates a much more effective cutting surface that creates phenomenal results compared to traditional diamond blades.
This month, the company is preparing to launch the BX-4, a revised version of the BX-3 masonary saw line that incorporates a misting system to cut down on airborne dust and other operator enhancing features.
"[The BX-4] is kind of a hybrid between the wet cutting and dry cutting masonry saw," Brian explained. "The BX-4 uses a mist generator that is encapsulated in the blade guard, reducing the dust by 75 to 80 percent."
In listening to its customers, MK Diamond understands that contractors want the best for their workers, but that many safety features are costly, impractical, less efficient or often difficult to use properly by workers.
"For about $7 to $8, we've been able to incorporate this new system onto the BX-4, address customers' concerns of protecting workers, and provide a platform that masons can continue to use and that they're familiar with," Brian explained.
"We're trying to take little bites out of the apple and trying to provide customers with those things that are cost effective, easy to use, but yet again with the idea that ultimately the person we're trying to protect is the worker that sees the benefit of cutting dry and who does not want to use water," he continued. "With the BX-4, the misting system provides all the benefits of dry cutting with a patent-pending dust control system."
Community and Industry Involvement
Hobie Smith, MK Diamond national sales manager, in Afghanistan with teachers and students at a local school
"I am a member of several different committees trying to understand the needs of the industry, where the industry is and what it needs to grow," Brian explained. "The most important committee that I sit on is the Silica Task Force. I try to participate in as many safety-type functions as I can. I'm also on the AEM Safety Council and I have just joined ASTM. As an industry leader, it is important to try to work with each of these committees to address the issue of silicosis for construction safety requirements."
MK Diamond's commitment to technological innovation and personal safety has won the company several awards. Last year, it was voted the Los Angeles Business Journal Small Business of the Year. The company has also been voted Home Depot Vendor of the Year - twice.
The company also strives to give back to the community, participating in the Heroes of the Hardware Industry (HHI) campaign, which benefits the City of Hope Cancer Center.
"We sponsored a golf tournament and I can't even tell you how many thousands of dollars we've raised for City of Hope," Brian recalled.
However, MK Diamond's involvement in HHI was cut short when Brian and Hobie Smith, MK Diamond's national sales manager, took their community service to a grander scale, when they were called to active duty and deployed for nine months during the invasion of Iraq.
Not to be overlooked, MK Diamond also strives to be "a good corporate citizen" to its 220 employees.
"One of the things that we do is we try to hire a lot of under-privileged people," Brian said. "We strive to help them establish a means of getting on their feet and having a sense of pride and belonging."
In addition, the company also sends many of its employees to the Dale Carnegie training program, a course designed to teach leadership, sales, interpersonal and communications skills essential to improving the performance of individuals and teams.
The Next Generations
One of Robert Delahaut's top goals is to ensure that MK Diamond remains a family-held business.
"I think the story that's very unique about us is we're the last privately held company in the industry," Brian remarked. "We're the only American owned company of, what we call, the 'Big Six' that serve the industry."
Brian said he and his father also want to continue to be a leader in the industry, strive toward identifying and developing products that increase safety and efficiency, and improve the wellbeing of workers. And the philosophy - that good simply isn't good enough - will continue to drive MK Diamond well into the future.
About the Author
Kate Parrott was a Managing Editor at Lionheart Publishing including Assistant Editor for Masonry magazine.
Photos courtesy of MK Diamond Products.