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Dynamic duos: Mike Arzt and Frank Phillips

They blur the lines in the business of fun


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(Editor's note: This is one of ColoradoBiz's “dynamic duos” of Colorado business, who reflect on their working relationships, what brought them together and where they’re going.)

Mike Arzt and Frank Phillips

The Public Works

The first thing that Frank Phillips and Mike Arzt mention upon separate sit-downs is family – their wives, their kids and each other. In fact, Arzt brings his 11-year-old daughter to our interview and they share accounts of reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho together, his trip to Las Vegas in 2000 during which he married her mom, Allison, and their one-on-one expedition to Iceland. Phillips regales me with stories of a sailing trip he and his 16-year-old daughter took, just the two of them.

“We took a 63-foot boat off the coast of Florida,” Phillips says, proudly.

As the topic turns to business, Phillips continues to beam with the same joy, illustrating perhaps that family can be inclusive of teams we assemble by choice. He maintains a philosophy that 1+1=3; pooled passion equals The Public Works – the multimedia, design and fabrication firm he co-founded with Arzt.

1+1=3 has been with us since the beginning,” Arzt says. It is “the core value that if we can start a new relationship that the output will be much larger than either of the two entities on their own.”

The duo met in 1997 while working for Burton Snowboards in Vermont. They were fast friends, taking advantage of an unwritten powder day rule, and became roommates. Phillips worked on the engineering side of the business, while Arzt worked in marketing.

As their bond strengthened, “We spent a lot of time talking bout our futures," Phillips says. “We started talking about how we could create an agency that combined our two strengths.” Arzt solidified the chatter, working on a business plan for The Public Works and the shared office space they hoped to inhabit – today, known as Battery 621.

“The original concept was blending the worlds of product design and development with marketing and genuine brand understanding,” Arzt says. “We felt like there were a lot of companies that did one or the other pretty well.”

Shared values set the course for what was to come.

“We’re really different, but deep down, what we care about; how we want to spend time; raise our families; all that stuff is based on principles of honesty,” Phillips, age 49, says.

They each gave seven years to Burton, leaving what they independently called “a dream job,” at different times for different reasons. They reconvened in Colorado and The Public Works officially got off the ground Jan. 1, 2006.

Their connections in the action sports industry paved the way for national clients early on, including Red Bull and Helly Hansen. They gained a reputation in Colorado, taking on local projects from design and fabrication work for a number of bars, restaurants and music venues, to work for Douglas County Public Libraries. In recent years, they also launched a stand alone furniture brand, Supple that is under The Public Works umbrella.

They are also the lead agency for the newest product launch of luxury travel trailer company, Airstream, while juggling big names, including Quiznos, Jeep, Spyder and Moet Hennessy.

Arzt talks about Battery 621, and the fuel that “being surrounded by likeminded people provides, keeping us fresh and creative.”

It all goes back to the notion of family – drawing in the people who you want to spend your time with.

"Does your partner make you better?" asks Chuck Sullivan, founder of Something Independent, a tenant at Battery 621."That's what it boils down to. The strongest partnerships bring out the best in all parties. In the case of Mike and Frank, you can see there are times when they are butting heads, but by challenging one another they gain fresh perspectives, make bolder business decisions and perhaps most importantly build a deeper bond."

Phillips calls their relationship a “marriage."

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Gigi Sukin

Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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