In 2010, Mitch Freire was a new college grad just embarking on a career in the building materials industry at a local ceiling company. Today, as the founder of and managing partner of Sagiper North America, he leads a thriving enterprise whose products have graced more than 4 million square feet of commercial office buildings, custom homes and condos, and some of the most notable retail properties across Canada and the U.S.—Starbucks, McDonald’s, California Pizza Kitchen, BMW Training Center, Ramada Hotel Revelstoke, Hilton Garden Suite Las Vegas, and The Warehouse NY, to name a few. From siding to interior ceilings, walls, and soffits, Sagiper’s popular products offer the natural look of wood and metallic finishes that retain their original beauty and luster for decades, hence the company’s most fitting tagline: “We provide timeless building solutions.”
Founded in 2014, in Edmonton, Alberta, Sagiper North America is the independent North American sales and distribution division of Sagiper building material products, manufactured and headquartered in Portugal. This is the country that sits at the heart of Mitch’s entrepreneurial journey that saw him rise from entry-level employee with Ceiling Centre to operations manager in just five years. One that led to the discovery of Sagiper in his parents’ native homeland of Portugal, and drove him to bring their exquisite products to North America. Mitch’s mentorship under Ceiling Centre owner Rick Furlong prepared him for the jump to start his own business. He did just that—and in spectacular fashion, with Sagiper North America’s products becoming some of the most popular, sought-after building materials across the U.S. and Canada.
While there is no doubt as to Sagiper’s success in just nine years, Mitch gives the credit to his passionate team. “We’re building a company that’s really centered around our people,” he says. “I may have built the company, but the people here build the business. That’s how I see it.”
We sat down with Mitch to learn more about his journey, what drives him, and one very special project that left an indelible mark on him.
What inspired you to start the company?
I was working as a purchaser for Ceiling Centre and realized a potential niche for wood-like ceiling applications. I also had a lifelong desire to conduct business in my parents’ native Portugal. I wanted to maintain the connection, so I was constantly looking for products from there to bring to Ceiling Centre. It was trial and error until I found Sagiper. I joined forces with my university friend Matt Swinarski, and together we embarked on a journey to start our own business.
Is there a particular project that left a lasting impression on you?
The Warehouse NY is very special to me. It was a beautiful old warehouse building in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. A developer repurposed it and put a modern, two-story cantilever office space on top. The reason it’s so special is because when I first started the business, I was in New York for a few days for a wedding. My wife and I were walking on the High Line, looking at all the amazing buildings, and I said, “One day I’m going to have a product on one of these buildings.” I didn’t remember that until this project was done, and I smiled. Now I can say, “Hey, that’s my product up there!”
You built an extraordinarily successful company, yet you credit it all to your employees. Why is this?
Everything we’ve achieved is through their hard work. Everybody here works tirelessly and they believe in the vision and goal of this company. It's incredible. We often talk about owning your inner entrepreneur, being in a business, but feeling and acting as if it’s your own. Everybody here has that mentality. They’ve taken a vision Matt and I had and have been able to help us scale that. It’s incredible to see how hard they work and how dedicated they are to making this business a success. I built the company, but the people here build the business.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Seeing people grow. My brother-in-law joined our company six years ago, not knowing anything about the business. He’s now our national sales manager, and I love to see that kind of growth, in all our people. It’s what really drives me, to help people in this organization realize their full potential, whether they’re with us forever or go on to bigger and better things. I want to be a big part of their lives and help them succeed and realize their own dreams. My former boss did that for me, and the reason I’m successful today is because of the same experiences and opportunities he gave me. My true joy is providing an environment where people can try, learn, and find out and develop the best in themselves.
Founder & Managing Partner — Sagiper North America