Earl Shapiro, who guided thermoformer and extruder Prairie Packaging Inc. from its 1986 startup to sales of $500 million in 2007, poured his energy into making disposable dinnerware and keeping clients happy.
Shapiro, 68, died May 26 of acute septicemia while returning to his Chicago home from Michigan, family members said in telephone interviews May 30.
``There was never any coasting,'' said Shapiro's son Matthew, who along with his brother Benjamin worked alongside their father before Pactiv Corp. bought Bedford Park, Ill.-based Prairie in 2007 for $1 billion. ``For Earl and for Prairie, it was about having customers who were your partners and your friends.''
Rob Johnson, vice president of management systems at Prairie, worked with Shapiro for 16 years. Johnson said one of his first acts as a manager was to create a ``little red book'' of daily inventory numbers and department reports for Shapiro. ``He took it with him in the car and he studied it like the Bible,'' Johnson said.
He remembered taking a call from Shapiro on the day the sale to Lake Forest, Ill.-based Pactiv closed. ``It was his last day on the job and he was calling me asking about the inventory numbers,'' Johnson said.
``It is with great sadness that Pactiv received the news that Earl Shapiro passed away,'' Pactiv spokeswoman Lisa Foss said in a May 29 e-mail. ``The Pactiv family mourns this loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with Earl's wife and family. Our deepest sympathies go out to them.''
Shapiro was born into the family that started Sweetheart Cup Co., which during the 1950s added plastics to its paper dinnerware line and became Maryland Cup Corp.
The Yale University-trained lawyer left a New York law firm in 1967 to work for the family business, eventually becoming president of Maryland Cup's Midwestern sales division before the company's 1983 sale to paper products manufacturer Fort Howard Corp.
Besides founding Prairie, Shapiro was a well-known civic leader and philanthropist in Chicago. In April, the Shapiro family gave $10 million to the University of Chicago's Laboratory Schools - the largest single gift in the college preparatory schools' 102-year history - to honor Earl Shapiro, a member of the class of 1956.
``Little did I know then that I would be making that [donation] in his memory,'' said Matthew Shapiro, who along with his brother and sister Alexandra attended the schools. ``Earl always stressed that it's important to give back to the community.''
Earl Shapiro in 2005 became chairman of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, a position he held at the time of his death. ``He was completely devoted to the organization and committed to our mission to enable all young people, especially those who need us the most, to reach their full potential as productive and caring citizens,'' said Bob Howard, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago president and chief executive officer, in a May 29 statement.
Services for Earl Shapiro were held May 29 in Chicago.