Meet John Pomp: Philadelphia’s glassblowing, surfing CEO

October 17, 2014, 11:00 AM UTC

John Pomp got his start as a painter, but glassblowing ultimately became his lifelong passion. He also happens to be the CEO and creative director of one of the fastest growing companies in inner city Philadelphia.

John Pomp Studios landed at No. 5 on this year’s Inner City 100 list, a ranking of the fastest-growing inner city businesses in the United States from the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. Oh, and Pomp surfs, too.

Pomp, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was first introduced to glassblowing as a student at the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. He ended up transferring to Temple University, home to one of the country’s top glassblowing programs. There, his love of the art form grew into a calling. Pomp says the immediacy of the glassblowing process initially drew him to the form.

“It’s a really seductive material,” he says. “It’s glowing, it’s moving. It’s so dynamic. And it’s a little dangerous. I love fire and the danger element to it. The glass can break. It’s elusive. There’s a mystery to it.”

With an aesthetic he describes as classic modern, Pomp says he tries “to make beautiful pieces that are of any era.” He adds, “We do a lot of great reinterpretation of classic pieces in different genres throughout time.”

After graduating from Temple in 1997, Pomp opened his first studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1999. He spent the next 10 years in New York City, gaining “notoriety” for his custom, glassblowing creations. Throughout, Pomp traveled around the U.S. and the world, and even managed to study Venetian glassblowing in Murano, Italy.

But Pomp says he now is spending his time trying to unlearn the techniques he picked up during his travels. He says he spent so much time learning to “make glass that machines could make” that he’s come to the realization that it’s the beauty of imperfection that fits best with his artistic style and is also the kind of art his customers desire.

After about 10 years in New York, Pomp decided it was time for a change. His current studio is located in the heart of Philadelphia. He decided to set up up shop there in 2008 because of what he terms the “real” atmosphere. “In New York, there are a lot more people talking about making art,” he says. “I didn’t really identify with that.

“There’s something very, very cool about Philadelphia,” he continues, referring to a sense of camaraderie he says he didn’t find in New York.

Pomp also says he cherishes the opportunity to help grow the art scene in Philadelphia and to provide jobs to the local community of artists. He works closely with the 25 local artisans and craftspeople he has hired to help create his designs, which are manufactured and shown in the U.S. and abroad. The studio’s booming business has seen 933% growth in the last five years and has brought in revenue of over $2,500,000 in 2013.

After opening shop in Philadelphia in 2009, Pomp launched a line of lighting products that include simple, elegant chandeliers made of glass in clear and amber tones. He also sells pendants, sconces, table lamps, and fixtures. In the last few months, the studio has delved into making furniture, including tables and chairs. The goal: “I want to make every object in my house, my primary focus, with glass.”

To keep up with his sprawling business, Pomp says he currently spends much of his time acting like a CEO. “I look forward to in the future spending time on the creative director aspect of my job.” For now, though, he says he is “putting out fires.”

Then again, Pomp’s business goals are certainly not the kind you’d likely hear uttered by a Fortune 500 exec, at least not in public. “I knew very early on I didn’t want to work for anyone else and I wanted to be an artist. I never wanted to make money. It never was appealing to me. But when I finally made the connection that making money is a resource for more creativity, that piqued my interest.

“In the end I don’t need to make more money. I just really want to make and create products that are inspiring that have never existed before that are my vision of beauty,” he added.

When Pomp isn’t putting out management fires or fashioning extremely hot glass, he’s in the water, surfing. “Surfers really make good glassblowers,” he says, explaining that he picked up the hobby a few years back. “Surfing is a lot like glassblowing. You’re working with fluid materials. It’s intuitive; you don’t have control over it.

“It’s very similar to molten glass, it has its own life [and] you’re constantly interacting with it.”

Read More

Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board