M. A. “John” Oztekin

Father of an Industry

Inducted in 2007

The Kent Corporation’s 50th anniversary arrives in 2008, and M. A. “John” Oztekin, founding president, will celebrate. So should Alabama.

Kent produces engineered solutions for merchandising displays. The corporation’s leadership in the shelving industry created jobs, and Oztekin’s commitment to use steel and other Alabama materials in manufacturing multiplied the economic impact.

Oztekin’s 11 patents tell how his innovations revolutionized store fixtures. Others adopted his designs and techniques, but the contemporary industry came from John Oztekin.

The beginning of this success story was a boyhood dream of owning a factory in Istanbul, Turkey, Oztekin’s hometown. After studying liberal arts in Turkey, he immigrated to Michigan in 1947 and studied engineering and commerce at the University of Michigan. A pen pal, Sue—who he would later marry—invited him to Alabama. The die was cast for his transfer to The University of Alabama.

After gaining his degree and citizenship in 1951, Oztekin took a position in Detroit with America’s first modern store-fixtures manufacturer. There his engineer’s mind noted opportunities to enhance the simplicity, flexibility, and attractiveness of fixtures.

Married by now, John and Sue saved for four years. They returned South to start Dixie Craft Manufacturing Company, which manufactured shelving and belt-driven-check-out counters for retailers. Though Oztekin sold his share after serving as chief executive officer from 1956 to 1958, Dixie Craft (the predecessor of Madix Corporation) maintained plants in Goodwater and Eclectic, among others. Today, those plants provide 1,400 jobs.

In 1958, Oztekin launched the Kent Corporation, where he perfected and patented his brainchild: the first unitized, one-piece-adjustable- steel shelves that featured uprights with integrated, roll-formed back-panel channels. In the process, he coined the industry standard terms, defining such components as Gondolas, Uprights, Shoes, and Kickplates. With bolts, screws, and rivets gone, the shelves are quickly installed, each component adding to stability. Retailers worldwide still use the shelves. Named the Supermatic line, both shelving and check-out counters appeared at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

In 1968, Oztekin was nominated for the President’s “E” Award for significant contributions to the U.S. export program. He founded landholding Supermatic Development Corporation in 1962, and he relocated Kent to its present north Birmingham site.

As successful as his patented products were, Oztekin envisioned superior ones. Flawless finishing of surfaces was one goal, inspiring the first electro-coating system for painting metal-display shelving, a process that Oztekin debuted in 1970. Parts are cleansed, electrically charged, and conveyed through one of four 15,000 gallon tanks containing deionized water, color pigments, and resin solids. Complete coverage, unobtainable otherwise, is guaranteed and provides for wear resistance that merchants had only dreamed of. Electro-coating is speedy, allowing Kent to turn around an order in unprecedented time.

Ahead of his time, Oztekin was the first person in his industry to perfect paint application that eliminated toxic solvents, and early on he promoted integrated CAD/CAM and RF barcode–based process control. In 2005, Kent introduced its state-of-the-art powder-coat system.

Oztekin created the Oztekin Family Endowed Scholarship that assists engineering students at The University of Alabama. The College of Engineering named him a Fellow in 2006.

John and Sue have three daughters and one son, all of whom live in the Birmingham area. They also have nine grandchildren.

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