Days like Oct. 9 only come once in a lifetime — even if you're Donald Graham, private equity player and packaging pioneer.
In the morning, Graham joined officials of Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics Group Inc. as they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, where the packaging giant had begun trading a few days before in an initial public offering. Newtown, Pa.-based Graham Partners Inc. and Apollo Group Management LLC of New York bought Berry in 2006.
Graham flew from New York to Pittsburgh, where he boarded a river boat to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers' Blow Molding Division.
“I'm really pleased that after all these years, you haven't forgotten about me,” quipped Graham, who founded Graham Packaging Co., a major blow molder, and Graham Engineering Corp., which makes blow molding machinery.
He also founded Graham Group, an alliance of industrial business and investment management firms. He is operating partner and senior adviser at Graham Partners.
“His involvement has spanned every part of our industry,” said Dave Yenor, Graham Engineering's vice president of global business development.
Known these days for his financial prowess, Graham earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, and a master's degree in industrial engineering and business management, from the University of Michigan.
Graham praised SPE as “the driving force in the industry for innovation and technical sense.”
He said the machinery business, Graham Engineering, played a key role that led to other businesses, from plastic bags in the 1970s to the formation of an architectural products group.
Graham ran through some of the packaging developments in his career, from the use of high-output wheel machines to blow mold motor oil bottles — which he said was ushered in by innovations in filling machines — to bottle-to-bottle recycling. Engineering made it all happen, he said.
Graham Packaging has grown into a multibillion-dollar firm with 6,000 employees and 90 plants. “Most of that is driven by technology and engineering,” he said.