The Inventor of the Pack-n-Play on the Gifts of Creativity and Prayer
The inventor of the Pack-n-Play, Nate Saint, rose in his family's business from janitor to executive leadership. Saint is named after his uncle who served as a missionary and was martyred alongside Jim Elliot by the Auca Indians in South America in 1956. In this interview, Saint talks about how his faith informs creativity, relationships and problem solving at work.
Nate Saint: If you’re a believer in Christ, that comes first. You can’t compromise your beliefs for your workplace.
I’m Nate Saint. I’m the CEO of Iron Mountains LLC. We are a company in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. We have a group of product designers and marketing folks. We develop children’s products: car seats, high chairs, strollers, playpens, that type of thing.
Most of the products that we develop are for the Graco brand, Graco Children’s Products. We want products that serve people well, that make their lives easier, make their lives more enjoyable, and help them raise their families well. That’s part of our mission really – to make great products that serve people well.
My father worked for Graco for about 45 years. My dad invented the first wind-up baby swing. It was called the swing-o-matic. It was Graco’s first product in the juvenile industry.
I started off working as a janitor in Graco when I was in high school. When I was in college I would work summers in the model shop at Graco. Then after a few years at Cessna after college I came back to Graco and began working in product development.
The idea for the Pack-n-Play came from actually one of our competitors. At the time Pack-n-Play was invented there were traditional a-frame play yards, and another competitor came out with a product that was a little bit longer – it was more rectangular in shape – but it packed into just a bag. They created a market because we began seeing their product grow and grow. But it had one problem: it had 19 pieces, and it took 5 minutes to assemble.
I think innovation and invention is really spurred by need. So when you see a product that is doing really well and yet it has – not a flaw – but it can be improved, that’s what’s driving my mind. How can we take this product that people love the folded size but it takes 5 minutes to put together, how can we make that much quicker and easier to do? That’s the motivation for the Pack-n-Play.
When I had time to sketch, I had sketched a lot of different ideas. Eventually one of them is now what became the Pack-n-Play.
We are really blessed to have great people here. They’re gifted people, skilled people, people who get along well and respect each other. And that’s really important. That really makes for an atmosphere that people can be creative.
I think God gives us the creative ideas that we come up with. I know we have to work hard. You could almost say that God invented creativity. And creativity, I believe, is a gift that he gave me, gave to others in this world. He gave us the drive to create things and he gave us the ability to create things.
John would be one of our newer design engineers.
John: I design primarily swings. I’ve been working the past 5 years on baby swings.
Nate Saint: And then Rob and I have worked together for many years – probably 25 or so. Rob is a very gifted engineer.
Rob: It’s always been kind of an honor to work with Nate because of his nature and because of his ethics. I think he really sets a tone for Iron Mountain. He’s a very kind person and a very honest person.
Nate Saint: One of my favorite scriptures is from James. It says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure and peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering without hypocrisy.” And then it says, “and a seed whose fruit is righteousness is sewn in peace by those who make peace.” I believe that if we can have a peaceful atmosphere – not that everything is always going to be peaceful – but if we can aim toward that, that’s a powerful thing.
The opportunity that I’ve had to share my faith typically comes when an employee has a difficult situation. They may come into my office and say, “I’ve got problems at home – my brother is doing this…” So I’ll talk to them about it, and I’ll say, “Can I pray with you?” They typically are open to that.
I grew up in a family that had a lot of Christian ministry emphasis. Christian ministry was highly revered in my family. And so I kind of assumed that that’s where God would take me. And yet I watched my father work in business and I began to realize that maybe that’s a calling as well.
That was emphasized when I was at LeTourneau, because LeTourneau had a strong emphasis of working out our faith, living out our faith in the workplace.
There was a time that I was back in my Graco days – it would have been several times – where we just had a problem that we did not have a solution for. And maybe we had a production deadline coming up – I don’t remember the specifics – but I remember we gathered some of the guys that were Christians and said, “Let’s pray. We don’t have a solution. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard spot here.” And God gave us solutions. And he continually gives us solutions.
If I create something, if I invent something, my response is gratitude towards God, because that’s a gift he gave me.
I’m excited about the future. Our challenge is, as product developers, how are our products going to reach the consumer? How are they going to decide which product to buy? That’s a challenge we see coming. And we haven’t really figured that one out yet. God willing we will.
I think it’s important that we realize that personal success is not “Did I climb the ladder?” or “Do I make more money?” It has to do with my walk with Christ. Am I fulfilling his calling for me in my life?
Special thanks to the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. Used with permission.