Nzilani Glass Conservation
Nzilani’s core values are “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.”
Nzilani Glass Conservation embodies everything great about Oakland. Established in 2003 by Ariana Makau, a woman of color who both lives in Oakland and bases her business there, Nzilani is a highly specialized stained glass conservation and new art glass fabrication company that gives back to its community.
Equally comfortable on a job site, in a boardroom or museum, Makau brings over 25 years’ experience of art and architectural preservation to all who are interested. With a Masters in Stained Glass Conservation from England’s Royal College of Art, Ariana could have remained exclusively within the museum field. Instead, she established Nzilani to provide more equitable opportunities to do this type of work. The diverse Nzilani crew–“Team Nzi”–creates new art and provides safe, museum-quality conservation for the public. Nzilani includes disconnected Oakland youth in its success by opening the studio for tours and internships. The company’s in-house documentation services allow it to reach a wide audience through professionally produced videos, surveys, and treatment reports.
Nzilani initially contacted PCV for HR and Business Management assistance in 2016 when the company was in its first growth phase while conserving the monumental stained-glass windows at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (for which Nzilani won a California Preservation Award). We paired Ariana with Cindy Kaczmarek to work on HR policy, marketing, and growth strategy. Ariana told us that Cindy is “one in a million. She genuinely cares about the people and the company in equal measure.”
Following her partnership with Cindy, Ariana was paired with Roger Sexton of Heath Ceramics. Ariana knew that PCV had worked with Heath before and is a fan of their production quality, collaboration with guest artists, and their commitment to their employees. The focus of her work with Roger was financial: “I’m an Excel nerd,” shares Ariana, “I love the logic of it. Any opportunity to make the program work harder and smarter for the company, I’ll use it. Roger updated Nzilani’s Excel projection formulae so we can more accurately forecast our short and long-term financial viability. This ultimately will be a game-changer for us.”
The Bay Area has a wealth of artists who are moving away because of the cost of living, but artists’ contributions to the community are a cornerstone of why it’s such a desirable place to live. Nzilani’s goal is to ensure that the people who are doing highly-skilled work are fairly compensated, not only with wages, but with tools and knowledge about long-term financial planning. PCV has worked with Nzilani toward their vision to ensure the proper building blocks are in place to support employees. This is a challenge for a project-based company whose revenue is tied to each job, which is why Makau was happy to be part of the Beta test version of the “Good Jobs, Good Business” digital toolkit.
Nzilani’s core values are “Be Safe. Have Fun. Do Excellent Work.” The company leads the industry in best practices for employee protection from lead exposure while working with stained glass and believes that being aware of your environment and materials frees you to do your best work and have fun while doing it.
Makau’s approachable, non-judgmental style is well received in classrooms and public talks. Her presentations at national conferences bridge the gap between health & safety regulators and those in the stained-glass industry. Attendees leave with a better awareness of what is necessary to protect their own personal safety as well as a better appreciation of the art form.
“PCV shares my vision of where the company can go and how it can continue to serve our community, artists, and the art,” says Makau. This was achieved most recently through a CDFI loan to enable Nzilani to be a competitive small business in bidding government projects. The company had honed in its team management infrastructure from years of large, high-end, private projects but longer payment terms created a barrier to entry in this field. The loan will assist Nzilani as it continues to reach a wider group of people and projects.