By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — Family tends to be a recurring theme at Whirlpool Corp.
A great example of that sentiment can be found in Mike Farrington. As the director of global laboratory operations, Farrington is a third-generation Whirlpool employee.
His grandfather began working at the home appliance maker in 1946. Farrington’s father started at Whirlpool in 1966. Even his twin brother, Eric, works at the Benton Harbor-based company, where he began on a full-time basis in 1989.
However, that lineage didn’t seem appealing to Farrington at first.
The Stevensville resident refused to apply at Whirlpool upon graduation. Farrington had just gotten engaged and wanted he and his wife to have their own identity. Farrington and his wife would go on to work at IBM in Minnesota for three years.
Things changed when they were ready to start a family.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘OK, we need to come home,’” Farrington said. “I thought it would be really hard to work my way back into the area, but I got a job offer at my first interview at Whirlpool. Our house sold during the open house and we ended up inheriting a house from my grandparents.”
His grandfather retired in 1972, where his second career turned into spending time with his twin grandsons.
“I got to grow up in the same town as my grandfather,” Farrington said. “My son got to grow up in the same town as his grandfather. I think that’s a really nice bond for family.”
Farrington’s father went to college and got a degree in mechanical engineering, and he retired in 1994 – a couple years after Farrington joined Whirlpool in 1992.
“It’s something we’ve been proud of,” Farrington said. “Whirlpool’s been here for 105 years, and for 70 of those years there has been a Farrington working in this area continuously.”
He’s been married for 27 years and has two kids: Alex, a 23-year-old pursuing his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Oregon; and Meg, a 21-year-old who attends Berrien County RESA.
While both children don’t appear to be going in the direction of Whirlpool, Farrington said he’s fine with that.
“I’ve always encouraged my son to follow his energy and not to worry about working here,” he said. “My daughter has Down syndrome and still lives with us. Right now she has not expressed any interest in Whirlpool.”
Behind the legacy
Farrington oversees more than 450 people in 38 labs in 22 cities around the world.
His primary role is collecting data that engineers use to validate their designs on Whirlpool products. Last month, the labs completed more than 2,000 requests combined. Farrington was promoted to the role in February as part of the company’s recent reorganization.
He’s had to travel more since being promoted, with destinations that range from Poland to India. As a self-described people person, Farrington said he enjoys learning new cultures and customs.
The 50-year-old takes pleasure in making an impact at Whirlpool, but the Twin Cities as well.
Farrington is an active member in the Pride Network at Whirlpool as a straight ally. He helped start the Berrien County chapter for the Down Syndrome Resource League after he and his wife discovered their daughter would have the genetic disorder.
He also was given the opportunity to help create the Benton Harbor Technology Center in 2012. As the project leader for the Tech Center, Farrington was in charge of creating the refrigeration laboratories and renovate the space for them.
He had other opportunities within the company, but Farrington wanted to have a part in creating the next generation of refrigerators.
“Every time I drive by the building, I still call it ‘my building,’” Farrington joked. “We relocated 180 positions into the area. Some of that was relocation, some of it was internal hiring, but most of it was external. That added a significant number of families to the area. As you know, family is important to me.”
Despite these opportunities, Farrington said it was his grandfather’s death that pulled him back to the Twin Cities.
When they were back for the funeral, the discussions began for moving back to Southwest Michigan. The week he came back for the job interview, his grandmother died.
“My grandfather had died, and that starts up a lot of feelings of family,” he said. “I feel like God might have been involved in making us move quickly before we changed our minds.”