Sherwin-Williams hits pause on HQ worker videos

These are screenshots from videos taken by a construction worker from near the top of the new Sherwin-Williams’ headquarters tower. The footage made a Cleveland ex-pat feel pride in his native city — so much that he compiled a video from them that he wanted to share publicly. But Sherwin-Williams’ executives didn’t agree with his decision. They told him to remove the video and barred workers’ onsite photography (Holden Gibbons). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM.

Tradespeople complain of work environment

After a construction worker’s videos from the top of the new Sherwin-Williams’ headquarters tower in Downtown Cleveland were posted on YouTube by a friend, the global coatings giant told the friend to delete the video and has clamped down on workers taking pictures of views from the construction site. This comes at a time when tradespeople complained to NEOtrans of an oppressive work environment and harkened back to a paint-mixing TikTok star who was fired four years ago by Sherwin-Williams.

Holden Gibbons, a military veteran and amateur video producer who is working and living in the Philippines, received videos from a friend and fellow veteran who is an ironworker erecting structural beams near the top of the headquarters tower. The building, just west of Public Square, is near to topping out at 616 feet. Not only is that making it the fourth-tallest skyscraper downtown, it’s also providing some new and amazing views of the city.

Living far from home, Gibbons said he felt pride in seeing those views of his native city from the new skyscraper and wanted to share them publicly. But Sherwin-Williams executives apparently didn’t see it that way. They reached out directly to Gibbons and the ironworker’s supervisor, reportedly bypassing the chain of command of their headquarters development team that’s led by a joint venture of Gilbane Inc. of Providence, RI and Welty Building Co. of Fairlawn, a suburb of Akron.

“I took down the video because my buddy hit me up and said his boss approached him about it and said it needed to be taken down and I certainly did not intend to cause any trouble for my friend or any of the other hardworking tradespeople,” Gibbons told NEOtrans. “I thought it would be cool to celebrate their hard work and contributions to our society.”

View of Sherwin-Williams’ new headquarters tower from the neighboring Terminal Tower’s observation deck in late October 2023 (KJP).

He said he feels that tradespeople are sometimes looked down upon, especially when compared to employees having a four-year college degree. He wanted to show what they get to experience on the job, including being able to stand on top of the city before anyone else. They also are often paid better than college graduates and have higher job satisfaction.

“Ultimately I think tradespeople should be celebrated, and despite their negativity, I think Sherwin-Williams should be commended for staying in Cleveland and investing in Cleveland by taking an embarrassing parking lot on a prime location in our city and building a beautiful new building there,” Gibbons added. “I’m just sorry that I got my buddy in a bit of a pinch. He was super cool about it to me as he knows I meant well by it. Just a shame it couldn’t be seen for what it is.”

NEOtrans reached out to Sherwin-Williams’ corporate communications staff and to Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Secretary David Wondolowski for an official comment. Neither responded prior to publication of this article.

Sources inside Sherwin-Williams have told NEOtrans that executives defend their protective public relations approach by pointing to the company’s record-high sales volume, near-record stock valuation and an employment growth of 20 percent since the pandemic. That unexpected employment growth is why the company is already considering a second office tower downtown.

Looking west on a frigid day last week, down Euclid Avenue at the Sherwin-Williams headquarters tower that’s nearly topped out (Tim Myrick,
Myrick Creative).

Gibbons’ friend and other construction workers who also took pictures and videos declined to be identified. One of them said they were contacted by Cuyahoga County’s communications and multimedia teams who were also impressed with the videos and wanted to share them in their promotional productions. NEOtrans linked to Gibbons’ video in our article last week updating Sherwin-Williams’ potential for a second headquarters tower.

Last week, during their lunch break, several construction workers spoke about the potential second tower. They also talked about other aspects of their jobs after they emerged from the Sherwin-Williams’ headquarters work site. They acknowledged that working conditions there are sometimes oppressive, calling Sherwin-Williams executives “major hard-asses.” They also said during orientation they were urged to sign voluntary non-disclosure agreements which they considered unusual.

Sherwin-Williams has been accused of being a secretive, controlling company that fails too often at public relations. For example, the company doesn’t have its name prominently displayed on its headquarters of the last 94 years, despite owning the building for the last four decades. However, it will have the company’s name and logo atop its new headquarters.

During City Planning Commission meetings in 2021 for its new headquarters, the company was criticized for designing its buildings and public spaces as discouraging the public from using them. No one will be allowed in the headquarters buildings uninvited. And only one public retail space was provided — on the ground floor of the headquarters’ parking garage facing West 3rd Street. The retail space was required by the city’s zoning code and its size was as small as could be permitted.

The Sherwin-Williams headquarters construction site on Christmas Eve 2023 when not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Key Tower and 55 Public Square loom in the background above Frankfort Avenue, looking east from West 6th Street (KJP).

Company officials said, while the public will be allowed to walk through a garden plaza in front of its two-story pavilion facing Public Square, executives didn’t want people to linger there. That included employees seeking to eat their lunch outside. So it rejected the city’s call for providing benches in the plaza or having flat-topped landscaping walls and instead opted for sloped walls and railings for people to briefly lean on.

But one of Sherwin-Williams’ most infamous public relations fails came four years ago when Medina native, Ohio University student and TikTok star Tony Piloseno was fired from his part-time job at one of the company’s paint stores. Piloseno became a TikTok star due to his popular paint-mixing channel @tonesterpaints which grew to have 1.4 million followers.

He used the TikTok account to show Sherwin-Williams how social media could be used to market its products to a younger audience. Instead, Piloseno was fired for “gross misconduct” and “wasting” the company’s product in his videos, according to a BuzzFeed article. He countered that he purchased the paint himself to create his TikTok videos in his free time. But Sherwin-Williams countered Piloseno was the subject of a complaint that “seriously embarrass[ed] the company or its products.”

Ironically, in the week after the BuzzFeed article was published, Piloseno received offers from Sherwin-Williams’ competitors — Behr, Benjamin Moore and PPG — to come work for them. Instead, he chose to work full-time for a less corporatized, family-run business called Florida Paints to develop his own line of paint products.


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