It's appropriate to remember Gordon Lankton in our annual Best Places to Work special issue. He helped make plastics manufacturing a great place to work for thousands of workers.
And not just those at Nypro Inc., the company he led for 50 years. Gordon had a positive impact on other injection molders and mold makers around the world.
I'm calling him Gordon not because he was a good friend, but because, despite his Ivy League education and position as the chairman and CEO of a $1 billion company, Gordon could relate to anyone on a personal level.
"He was not Mr. Lankton," said Randy Barko, who worked with Gordon for 25 years. "The first time he met anyone, he would say, 'Call me Gordon.'"
When I first set out to write Gordon's obituary a few weeks ago, I ran into a problem. Finding contemporaries of a retired 89-year-old businessman and philanthropist can be difficult. But a week later I was happy to hear from Ted Lapres, one of Gordon's successors as president and CEO. He was eager to talk about Gordon's legacy and to put me in touch with other former Nypro senior leaders who had great stories to share.
Jim Buonomo remembered the first time he met Gordon. At the time, Buonomo was a junior accountant at one of Nypro's many joint-venture companies.
"I had been there about three weeks and I really didn't know a lot about Nypro. One Saturday morning I was in the office, and this person comes in and sits down, introduces himself as Gordon. He took the time to get to know me.
"Later I asked my boss, 'Who's Gordon?'" Buonomo was shocked he'd been talking to the president of Nypro.
Gordon died March 6, a few days shy of age 90. He built one of the top injection molders in the world, but his career transcended the plastics sector.
If our Best Places to Work program had existed in his era, Nypro would have been on the list every year. Just look at the descriptions of the benefits offered at this year's winners: generous profit-sharing, 401(k) match, employee ownership. Nypro offered those decades ago. Nypro was also the second Plastics News Processor of the Year, back in 1997.
Young readers might not be familiar with Nypro, since the company's name has faded away, but when I joined Plastics News in 1991, Nypro was the company that other molders wanted to emulate.
It was based in Clinton, Mass., but had plants around the world, including Russia, China and India. Nypro was following U.S. customers around the globe and taking its core values everywhere it went.
"When we went to China, it wasn't to be a low-cost molder. It was to be the best molder in China," Barko said. "Whenever we had a meeting, first we talked about safety. Then we talked about quality. P&L [profit & loss] would be further down the list. It was all about spreading the Nypro culture."
Nypro established a local board of directors at each of its plants, to groom future leaders and to get them engaged in the business. Today those former Nypro managers lead top plastics companies around the globe.
One great story I heard in researching this column was about why many Nypro locations, including the headquarters, didn't have cafeterias. Gordon wanted workers to venture out at lunchtime and support local restaurants. That's one of many reasons he and the company had a great reputation in all the communities where it did business.
Nypro was founded in 1955, and Gordon joined in 1962. He became full owner in 1969. Then he turned ownership over to its employees through an employee stock ownership plan in 1998.
In 2013, when Jabil Circuit Inc. bought Nypro for $665 million, it purchased the stock from 1,900 ESOP members and another 200 key international employees who had an ownership stake.
Our editorial at the time called Nypro "an admired and respected institution," and it called Gordon "a living legend in the plastics industry."