LINDSTROM, MINN. — Marlene Smith, who ran and owned a Minnesota-based injection molder for 38 years, died on April 5. She was 79 years old and had Alzheimer's disease, according to a local news report.
Smith took over Plastic Products Co. Inc. in Lindstrom in 1975, when her second husband, Willard Smith, died of cancer. At the time, the company employed 35, had sales of $1.2 million, and was struggling to stay afloat.
Today the company has eight plants, 820 employees and annual sales of $140 million.
Smith retired as president in 2013. Today PPC is 100 percent employee-owned. Smith was named to the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame last year.
“Marlene turned the struggling company into a thriving, award-winning business, one that for years was repeatedly ranked as one of the nation's largest woman-owned businesses,” according to an obituary submitted by Smith's family.
Smith started working at PPC as a bookkeeper in 1962, and she married Willard Smith in 1972. Shortly afterward he was diagnosed with colon cancer. The company relied almost exclusively on one customer, St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Co., and much of that work had dried up. Before his death, Willard advised her to close PPC permanently.
But she refused to give up.
“I decided to come in and fight like heck,” she told Plastics News in a 2000 story. “It wasn't just for me; I didn't want all these people here to suddenly lose their jobs.”
Before long the company diversified into appliance and automotive molding, moved into a larger plant in Lindstrom, and added additional plants across the United States.
“Growing up on a farm, I developed a good mechanical aptitude,” she said. “Not everyone believed I could do this. But my common sense has served me well.”
Today the company has plants in Lindstrom and Princeton, Minn.; Lebanon and Greenville, Ky., Greenfield, Tenn.; West Branch, Iowa; Moline, Ill., and Seneca, S.C.
Born Marlene Ann Johnson in St. Paul in 1935, for much of her career she went by Marlene Messin, after she remarried. She sold the company to an employee stock ownership plan in 2013. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. on April 10 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom, with visitation at the church from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 9.