R. Bruce Grover, 79, of Kohler, Wis., died Nov. 23 at his home. He had a 37-year career in plastics, including a long stint as chairman, CEO and owner of Sheboygan, Wis., vinyl sheet maker VPI LLC.
Grover and partners Werner Krause and Edwin Stone joined VPI in 1970 and accumulated stock in the company.
VPI, formerly Vinyl Plastics Inc., had started in 1946 as a maker of vinyl floor tile.
When the trio joined VPI, the company was not profitable and suffered from heavy debt and high overhead. They reorganized the firm into separate divisions and turned the company around, and Grover was named Wisconsin Small Business Man of the Year in 1991.
When he won the award, Grover was called “an individual of impeccable standards … a successful businessperson who has positively impacted the Sheboygan economy,” and “a well-rounded leader who has shown a unique concern for his community.”
VPI under Grover's watch also was known for its employee relations. The company implemented a Lifelong Learning Program in 1989, under which workers could attend in-house seminars on different topics, or pursue a college degree or vocational training.
Grover bought controlling interest in the company in 1992. In 1997 he made his biggest acquisition, American Mirrex Corp., which included two film plants.
The company started to break up in early 2003, when Klöckner Pentaplast of America Inc. bought a VPI calendered PVC film plant, a former Mirrex operation in Delaware City, Del.
In 2004, as he approached age 70 with no succession plan in place, he decided to sell the company division by division. The original core business, the Floor Products division, now known as VPI Corp., was sold to R. Steven Martin, Jeremy Williams and Robert MacPherson.
Spartech Corp. bought three VPI divisions, which accounted for the largest share of the company. Coer Inc. bought the remaining piece, a medical products unit.
Honors and activities
Grover was active in the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., and he served as chairman of the Washington-based trade group's sheet producers division and its statistics committee.
Grover was awarded the Society of Plastics Engineers' Jack Barney Award. He became a member of the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame in 2007, and he was named among the Sheboygan Press newspaper's 100 People Who Shaped Sheboygan County.
He was founder of the Sheboygan Astronomical Society, past member and chief negotiator of the Kohler School Board, past president of the Sheboygan Country Club, a member of the Sheboygan Economic Club, and chairman of the Sheboygan Development Corp.
Grover served on the advisory board for the Boys & Girls Club, as an adviser of the Above & Beyond Children's Museum, and on the board of Meals on Wheels. He founded the Grover Family Foundation.
Grover was born on May 22, 1935, in East Orange, N.J. He was a 1953 graduate of Montclair Academy and received a degree in engineering from MIT in 1957.
Bruce began his career in plastics research at Celanese Corp. in 1957. He moved to Nixon Baldwin Chemical Co. in 1960 and GAF Corp. in 1963.
Services were held Nov. 29 in Kohler. Grover was survived by his wife of 54 years, Carol; two daughters Deborah and Karen; son Robert and seven grandchildren.