Thos. Moser CEO Bill McGonagle and the Auburn company’s 133 employees have a front-row seat, as it were, to history this week. They are making two chairs for Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit.

The pope and four cardinals will sit in Catena arm chairs during a visit to Independence Hall, and the pope will sit in a Harpswell armchair during a parting ceremony at the airport on his last day.

1. How did Thos. Moser get involved in providing chairs for Pope Francis’ visit?

Earlier this year when we learned that Pope Francis would be visiting the U.S., and in light of the fact that we made the ceremonial seating for Pope Benedict’s visit to the White House in 2008, an associate from our Philadelphia showroom approached the archdiocese and the World Meeting of Families organizers about making seating for this visit.

Obviously, they were receptive to the idea and we are quite honored to be given the opportunity again.

2. OK, level with us: Did you sit in either chair first? Has to be a little tempting to be part of history, and someone has to test them out . . . 

I have sat in many Harpswell chairs during my tenure at Moser, so there was no real need to try out the chair we built for Pope Francis, but I was tempted and did sit in the chair for a moment when no one was looking. I admit it was a special moment.

3. Walk us through the work of building just one piece of furniture in the Auburn plant.

Every piece of furniture built at Moser starts with the selection of raw lumber. We take time to ensure the color and grain match on each board selected. At Moser, there are no assembly lines. One craftsman is responsible for building one piece at a time, by hand.

The craftsman will start with the rough lumber, build the piece and finish by signing it with their name and date. There is also no quality control department at Moser. It is our craftsman, with his or her own signature, who holds the honor to sanctify each piece’s worthiness, including the natural materials selected, quality of craftsmanship and design specifications.

4. You’ve made a point of sourcing materials and supplies within Maine and the U.S. How challenging is that?

At Moser, we are very serious about sourcing materials only from the United States. We only work in domestic hardwoods that are sustainably harvested, and that has been our commitment for over 40 years now. But the commitment goes well beyond wood. We are focused on buying American equipment and parts as well. In fact, because our product consists almost entirely of wood sourced in the United States and built only with American hands, it is clearly the most “American made” product I am aware of.

5. Policy or issue you’re following this summer at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on your business?

I believe the largest policy issue impacting our business today is still the cost of health care. Thos. Moser has experienced double-digit increases year over year and has absorbed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of increased premiums to keep the cost of health care flat for our employees. Instead of investing this money to grow sales, create jobs and increase wages, it is being spent to maintain the same benefit level and coverage for existing employees. Maine desperately needs more competition in its health insurance and health care markets.

6. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?

I would invest the million in research and development, brand-building to increase consumer awareness and retail expansion in the United States and Canada.

Six Questions For The CEO is a monthly feature on the faces and names that keep business interesting. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at [email protected]


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