Fred E. Carl Jr. is an American entrepreneur and the founder of Viking Range Corporation, a manufacturer of commercial-style kitchen appliances for the home. With the introduction of the first Viking range in 1987, Carl is credited with creating the popular professional category of domestic appliances, which later evolved into stainless steel becoming the dominant finish for high-end kitchen appliances.
Born February 14, 1948, in Greenwood, Mississippi, United States, Carl is a lifelong resident of his hometown, except for a period in the military and some period living in Jackson, Mississippi, following college. He attended Greenwood High School, graduating in 1966, and continued his education at Mississippi State University. He worked summers for his father's construction business during junior high and high school and his first two years of college. The Vietnam war interrupted his education and he spent two years in active duty in the Naval Air Reserve as a search and rescue helicopter crewman at the U.S. Navy base in Keflavik, Iceland. After completing active duty and returning to the U.S., he resumed his college education at Delta State University, where he obtained a bachelor of business administration degree. After graduating from Delta State, he studied architecture for some period of time at Mississippi State University and then attended graduate school in urban and regional planning at the University of Mississippi.
Carl returned to his hometown to resume his career in the construction business, his family's heritage. His great-grandfather, Jonathan Carl, had moved from Franklin, Tennessee, to Mississippi where he established Carl Brick Company and was also a building contractor. His grandfather, William A. Carl, and father, Fred E. Carl Sr., were also building contractors in Greenwood, Mississippi, with Fred Carl Jr. becoming the fourth generation of the Carl family to be a building contractor in the area. He specialized in design-build, carrying out both design and construction of projects.
When designing a new home for his family in 1981, Carl's wife, Margaret, who had learned to cook on a heavy-duty vintage Chambers gas range, wanted a similar gas range for their new kitchen. Knowing that heavy-duty, high-end gas ranges had long since become extinct, Carl realized that the only alternative for a heavy-duty range for their new kitchen would be a commercial range like those used in restaurants. However, after researching the use of commercial ranges in the home, Carl became concerned about the serious disadvantages this involved: little or no insulation, hot surfaces that could burn a child's hand, high heat output into the kitchen, excessive energy consumption, the need for fireproofing adjacent surfaces where the range was to be installed, and the ovens of commercial ranges having no broiler.
As a result, Carl and his wife had to settle for a built-in Jenn-Air electric range, the only suitable high-end range they could find at the time. Following this frustrating experience, Carl continued to ask himself why high-end, heavy-duty, high-performance gas ranges no longer existed. Seeing a need for such a product, Carl set about designing a residential version of a classic commercial gas range, a style he had increasingly found appealing, with plans to sell his new product to discriminating consumers and serious home chefs.
After designing a prototype that combined the performance, quality, and styling of a commercial gas range and the safety and convenience of high-end residential built-in ovens and cooktops, Carl took his drawings to the major commercial range companies seeking a manufacturer to produce his new range. After being turned down by virtually every commercial range manufacturer in the U.S., he ultimately contracted with U.S. Range Co. of Gardena, California, to manufacture his new range, which he had named Viking. Viking Range Corporation was incorporated in Mississippi in 1984 and the first Viking ranges began shipping in January 1987.
Viking ranges became popular with high-end consumers wanting a high-performance, high-quality range that also provided a unique, distinctive new look for their kitchen. When demand grew, production was moved to another manufacturer, but this move was not successful. A Viking manufacturing plant was then established in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1990. After adding manufacturing and engineering capabilities, the Viking product line was expanded and the market was expanded.
As the company's success continued, its capital needs also increased. In 1992, Little Rock, Arkansas-based investment banking firm Stephens, Inc. made an investment in Viking to acquire a significant stake in the company, becoming Carl's partners in Viking from that point forward. Despite new competitors entering the emerging "professional" category that Viking had created, the company experienced explosive growth in the 1990s and early 2000s. During this period and in part due to the additional capital available through the Stephens investment in the company, Viking was able to establish three additional manufacturing facilities in Greenwood to produce its ever-increasing lineup of kitchen appliances, including ventilation, refrigeration, dishwashers, and outdoor cooking products. Viking became one of the most prestigious and widely recognized brands of premium consumer products in the high-end marketplace and the Viking range reached iconic status in the major appliance, luxury housing, and design communities.
In mid-2012, Middleby Corporation, a publicly traded company engaged in manufacturing commercial foodservice equipment, contacted Carl and made an attractive offer for the company. Approaching the age of 65, Carl consulted with his Stephens partners and, due to timing and the aggressive offer from Middleby, he and his fellow shareholders decided to accept Middleby's offer to acquire Viking. The transaction closed on December 31, 2012.
Public reports, issued by both Middleby and Viking, stated that Carl was to remain CEO of Viking after the acquisition by Middleby. However, in mid-January following the acquisition, Carl abruptly announced his resignation and retirement from Viking. In a memo to employees, dealers and distributors, Carl stated that, at this stage of his career, he had been unable to make the transition from chairman, president and CEO of his own company to answering to the corporate office of a public corporation. The same day Carl announced his resignation, Middleby announced a significant layoff of Viking employees. Carl is no longer affiliated with Viking in any way.
When seeking a location for Viking's corporate headquarters in Greenwood in 1986, Carl decided to lease space in abandoned downtown buildings, not only due to the highly attractive price of these under-utilized buildings, but also to try and rejuvenate the central business district of his beloved hometown. Over the ensuing fifteen years, Viking acquired and restored over twenty buildings in the downtown Greenwood historic district. In 2001, Viking acquired the abandoned Hotel Irving, which was originally constructed in 1917, to accommodate the increasing numbers of dealers and distributors who were coming to Viking for training and new product introductions. After an extensive restoration spanning two years, Viking reopened the hotel as The Alluvian Hotel and Spa on May 1, 2003, having transformed the derelict, abandoned, downtown eyesore into a fifty-room luxury boutique hotel. A Viking Cooking School was then established across the street from The Alluvian.
The Alluvian has received various awards and accolades for being among the best boutique hotels in North America, making it, its spa, and the Viking Cooking School a tourist destination that now attracts visitors from throughout the nation. Originally intended as a corporate hospitality and entertainment venue for Viking, not only has The Alluvian become a popular tourist attraction, it, along with the many other historic buildings restored by Viking, continued the transformation of downtown Greenwood into a flourishing central business district. Carl's vision for Greenwood's downtown has become recognized as a shining example of what can be accomplished with the preservation of historic buildings to reclaim a declining downtown and transform it into a source of community pride and vitality.
Carl and his wife, Margaret, have made generous donations to various local and national causes, including organizations associated with the arts, community development, and education. In 2003, Carl made a gift to endow the Small Town Center at Mississippi State University's College of Architecture, Art and Design. Created in 1979 and now known as the Carl Small Town Center, it has developed a national reputation for its design and planning assistance to Mississippi towns and is also a teaching forum for architecture students. He and his wife also endowed the Carl Scholarship in Architecture at Mississippi State University in honor of his father. A building in downtown Greenwood bears the name of his mother, Lorraine Carl. Carl was also instrumental in creating the Delta Music Institute at Delta State University, providing a generous lead left to establish DMI as a new entity within the university. In 2009 Carl Made an undisclosed substantial donation to his church, the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, where he has donated to the Carl Parish Center, which he requested be named in honor of his wife.
Carl has received many local, regional and national honors and awards. He has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Mississippi State University and an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree by Delta State University. In 2004, the Mississippi Legislature honored Carl with a concurrent resolution commending his career and civic contributions to his community and the state of Mississippi. In 2006, he was awarded one of only eleven National American Spirit Awards by the Small Business Administration for his volunteerism and leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Other awards include:
- Main Street Leadership Award in Business (2004)
- Inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame (2002)
- Mississippi Governor's Cup Award (1996)
- Mississippi Entrepreneur of the Year (1995)
- Ernst & Young 1996 Mid-South Entrepreneur of the Year
- Inducted into the Innovators Hall of Fame by the Mississippi Technology Alliance
National Kitchen and Bath Hall of FameCarl has been on various boards and commissions. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He was the Director of Recovery Housing for the Mississippi Governor's Commission for Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He is a past member of the Board of Directors of Trustmark Corporation and Trustmark National Bank. He is or has been on the boards of several other nonprofit organizations, including:
- Board of Directors of the Mississippi State University Foundation
- Advisory Board of the Mississippi State University College of Architecture, Art and Design
- Past Chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission
- Advisory Board of the B.B. King Museum