Donald Shepard, leader of packaging giant Menasha Corp. during the 1980s and early 1990s, died July 5 in Neenah of cardiac arrest. He was 87.
Shepard was a great-grandson of Elisha Smith, who in 1852 bought a failed Menasha, Wis.-based wood pail-making business and turned it into the successful wooden-ware firm. The company, which went through several name changes, in 1927 diversified into corrugated paperboard packaging, and was renamed Menasha Corp. in 1962.
Neenah-based Menasha Corp. is the parent company of Oconomowoc, Wis.-based pallet and dunnage manufacturer Orbis Corp., which was formed between 1996 and 2001 as Menasha consolidated its material-handling subsidiaries.
According to a June 6 news release from Menasha, Shepard began his career with the firm, which was then known as Menasha Wooden Ware Co., as a sales trainee in 1950 after serving in the Marines and graduating from Yale University.
Shepard, also known as Tad, eventually held a number of management positions within Menasha, and in 1981 became president and CEO. In 1987 he was also named chairman.
He continued as president and CEO — the last family shareholder in that position — until 1989 and served as chairman until 1993. He resumed the presidency for an interim period during 1992 and retired from the board in 1995.
Between 1982 and 1989, Menasha grew from $195 million to $545 million in sales.
In a July 6 email, Menasha spokeswoman Nancy Whitton said Shepard played a leading roll in growing the company's plastics holdings, including the acquisition of Scranton Plastics in 1981, Traex Corp. in 1984 and Thermotech in 1988.
“Although we divested of these businesses, Mr. Shepard would have been involved in the full-ownership purchase of G.B. Lewis in 1975, which was the base for what has become Orbis Corp. today; internal growth of the plastics business through the startup of our Manchester and Monticello, Iowa, plants; and the opening in Menasha, Wis., of the only plant in the industry [at that time] devoted exclusively to making plastic pallets,” she said.
In a June 6 email, Orbis President Bill Ash praised Shepard's vision: “He saw the future of plastic reusable packaging and believed in the economic and environmental benefits that it provides.
“Tad was a pioneer in the industry and a champion for Orbis Corp. We appreciated his direction and insight and he will be missed,” Ash said.
Shepard also served on the board of Menasha Corp. Foundation. He received numerous community honors for his work in charitable giving and for service to organizations including the Neenah Chamber of Commerce, the Neenah school board, Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah, and Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.
“We are grateful for the many years of service that Mr. Shepard gave our company and the community,” Menasha President and CEO Jim Kotek said in the release. “He cared deeply about the company, its values and its employees and had strong views about the company's reputation for ethical conduct and integrity, which we continue to value as the core of our culture.”