“There’s a lot of people in the trade that wouldn’t be there without him.”
When Kent Madsen walked into a room and started talking, everyone stopped. They wanted to know what he was going to say. When he talked, everybody listened. He encouraged people to do the best that they could in life, and he lived that advice himself throughout his career in Alberta. Kent was a leader not just for his apprentices at Madsen’s Custom Cabinets, but for woodworkers and tradespeople across the province.
Madsen’s Custom Cabinets was founded in 1960 by Kent’s father. Kent came to the shop from a young age and was taken under the wing of the skilled tradespeople there, who taught him the craft of cabinetmaking and the dying art of oil finishing. He eventually became an apprentice for his father and earned his journeyperson cabinetmaker certification in 1983. In 1985, Kent and his business partner Myron Jonzon purchased Madsen’s Custom Cabinets and worked with the team to grow the business. In 2010, Kent bought Myron’s half of the business and became the majority shareholder. He continued to lead Madsen’s until 2020 when he was involved in a deep sea diving accident which, tragically, took his life.
When Kent first took over Madsen’s, it was a small shop with about 6 staff members. Under his leadership, it grew to employ up to 100 staff and completed many high-profile projects including a renovation of Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium and the Alberta Art Gallery. The shop is highly respected by others in the industry. Kent always strived to be the first to adopt new technologies and put out the best products. He was at the forefront of the woodworking industry and worked hard to stay there. He was curious and passionate about learning and solving problems in new ways.
“Grandpa got into woodworking to practice woodworking, and Dad got into it to practice business,” says Tyler Madsen, one of Kent’s 2 sons. “He was the best businessman you’d ever see.”
Kent is remembered as an exemplary leader within Madsen’s Custom Cabinets. He was hand-on in every aspect of the business but at the same time empowered his staff to have a voice and drive business forward. He implemented a continuous improvement program and recognised that skilled workers have valuable knowledge and the benefit of having them share this knowledge. He always demanded the best of his staff and was there to congratulate them on their accomplishments.
Kent’s son Josh Madsen says, “No matter how hard he pushed you, you couldn’t complain, because you knew he was working harder. The work ethic that he instilled here… it was phenomenal.”
Kent always had apprentices within his employment. Kent worked hard to ensure that his apprentices understood their value and were recognized for their efforts for completing their journeyperson certification. It was his company’s standard policy to reimburse apprentices upon passing technical training each year. He supported his apprentices in any way he could and believed in providing access to apprenticeship training so that as many young people as possible could achieve a certificate.
“He explained frequently to apprentices that their journey as a carpenter or cabinetmaker doesn't end and that a woodworking career presented an endless array of future upward movements... the sky was the limit,” Kent’s long-time friend and employee Allan Trachuk says.
Kent knew that in order to change perception of the woodworking industry, he had to introduce and educate students about the industry at a school-age level. He had multiple tours of Madsen’s facilities with junior high and high school students so the students could see the technology and artistry that goes into creating architectural millwork. He also made presentations at high school career fairs to introduce woodworking to our upcoming generations. He was exceptional at getting young people excited about what the woodworking industry could offer.
Because the structure of available classes in the apprenticeship program is based on demand, Kent worked very hard alongside NAIT staff to ensure they had an abundance of registrations to fill their classes. NAIT would contact him if they were running short, and Kent would scour his own staff for apprentices needing to attend a class, hire new apprentices, and contact other companies in the industry to do the same. He took it upon himself to ensure that the apprenticeship programs were steadily available and accessible. Kent was consistently one of NAIT’s greatest supporters of the apprenticeship program. He was always proactive in having his employees attend school regularly.
“There’s a lot of people in the trade that wouldn’t be there without him,” says Tyler.
Kent wanted to see the cabinetmaking trade be the best it could be. Over the course of his career, he became an outstanding ambassador of the trade. He was vice-president of the Architectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association of Canada (AWMAC) and was strongly influential in developing AWMAC’s woodworking standards manual. He worked hard to recognize and increase the standards of woodworking around the city of Edmonton. He served on the cabinetmaker Provincial Apprenticeship Committee and Local Apprenticeship Committees and always encouraged his staff to do the same.
“Kent’s dedication not just to Madsen’s, but to cabinetmaking in general in the area, is surpassed by no one else,” Josh says, “His desire was stretched out past this building. It was to see cabinetmaking and woodworking in general flourish past ourselves as a company.”
After Kent’s passing in 2020, his sons Josh and Tyler Madsen took over the business. They are proud to be the 3rd generation carrying on the Madsen legacy.
When asked what his dad would think about being inducted into the Alberta Trades Hall of Fame, Josh says, “I think he’d say ‘thank you, it’s an honour, and it’s time to get back to work.’”
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