Warren “Mickey” Bradley reached a milestone birthday in June — 90! — and has he got a story to tell. The industry knows him as the founder of Cardinal Systems Inc., manufacturer of inground pool kits, steps and benches, and coping. The Schuylkill, Pa., firm will be celebrating a milestone next year, too, when it turns 40.
But Bradley’s career path started in a very different industry.
He grew up with five siblings in Long Island, N.Y., and after studying at Cornell University, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a stage technician. From 1945-65, Bradley said he worked as “a carpenter, an electrician, that sort of thing” on various shows. In New York, he worked on musicals such as “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Chicago.” He recalled working at many theaters, including a stint with the pre-Broadway tryout of “St. Louis Woman” in Boston starring Pearl Bailey and Rex Ingram.
“We used to work three or four days at a time with very little sleep,” Bradley said. “We would load the show up on Saturday night into a train car — it would transport to Philadelphia or Boston — and we would take it off the train and reset in the new location, sometimes rebuilding entire scenes.”
Toward the end of his theater days, Bradley owned a motion-picture production studio that specialized in B movies.
Then an actors’ strike shut down the industry, and Bradley decided to leave that line of work. It seems an unlikely leap from live theater to the pool business, but as he tells it, it makes sense. His brother-in-law was a salesman at the Medallion Pool Co. in Long Island. Bradley started by supervising the crews that installed redwood pools. His son, Skip, ran one of those crews. Soon Bradley was asked to take over as manager of the manufacturing facility.
In 1973, he retired and planned to travel with his wife, Betty. Unfortunately, a gas shortage hit at that time, and tooling around the country in a Suburban SUV pulling a large travel trailer just wasn’t feasible. They got as far as Wilmington, N.C., before deciding to return home.
His next career move was to join Pool Builders Supply (no relation to the current PBS) in Smithtown, N.Y. But the pool business took a big dive in 1974 and there was no work. Bradley decided to retire — again. But former customers started calling, asking if he would supply them with products.
Mickey and Betty discussed it and decided to borrow money to buy a shear, punch press and press brake in 1976. He and two employees set up shop in a 5,000-square-foot garage — and Cardinal Systems was born.
The business took off, and by 1984 Skip had joined the team. Now there were 36 employees, and the firm relocated to a 15,000-square-foot building. Thanks to automation of the production process and other innovations, Cardinal flourished.
In 2014, the torch passed to the third generation. Skip’s children, David and Rachel, now are in ownership roles.
“From the inception of Cardinal, we never wanted to be the biggest,” Mickey Bradley recalled. “We always had the desire to be the best company our customers could do business with. That means an awful lot of things. ‘Be the best you can be’ is something I preached and taught in the Boy Scouts [for 57 years].”