St. Helena, Calif. — John Witt, a Plastics Pioneer who built a respected and successful custom sheet business in Greenville, Ohio, died on Feb. 14. He was 87.
A past chairman of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s sheet extrusion division, he sold Witt Plastics Inc. in 2001 and moved to St. Helena in California's Napa Valley with his wife, Barbara.
Witt was born in Dennison, Iowa, and was a 1956 chemical engineering graduate from Iowa State University. He joined Shell Chemical Co.'s Plastics & Resins division in Houston in 1959 after three years of active duty aboard Pacific Fleet destroyers in the U.S. Navy. At Shell he began work in research and development in epoxy resin process development.
Witt worked at Shell until 1966, doing plastics technical service and sales, before leaving with another Shell engineer to start up and become part owner of Ohio Kal Plastics in Greenville, a firm affiliated with sheet extruder Kal Plastics Inc. of Beaverton, Mich. Witt served as vice president of sales for several years, even after Kal Plastics and Ohio Kal were acquired by Alma Plastics of Alma, Mich.
In 1972, Witt left Alma Plastics to form his own company, custom sheet extruder Witt Plastics Inc., in Greenville. Eleven years later, the firm acquired the assets of custom and lighting panel extruder Litek Corp. of Miami and formed Witt Plastics Inc. of Florida. The following year, Witt moved the equipment and staff from Miami to a new leased building in Lakeland, Fla.
Under his leadership, Witt Plastics improved its processes, products and services, focusing on quality, service and value. The company specialized in thin-gauge, rigid sheet and rollstock, mostly high-impact polystyrene and polypropylene, used for printing and thermoformed packaging of various products, including electronic components, medical packaging, and form-fill-seal containers for dairy and food products.
Witt was a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers since 1961, and was part of the original group in 1970 that formed what became SPI's sheet producers division. SPI is now the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association.
In 1993 Witt Plastics was listed among Arthur Anderson's top 100 privately held companies in the Dayton area, and in 1995 Witt was named Dayton-Cincinnati region Master Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young. That same year Witt Plastics achieved ISO 9002 certification.
In 1998, Witt was elected a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. Klöckner Pentaplast of America Inc. acquired Witt Plastics in 2002.
Witt pioneered the use of information technology, putting computers in the hands of many people at Witt Plastics, including hourly production workers. He also implemented a bonus system that tied employee financial success and well-being to gains in productivity and quality.
"I've always felt that keeping on top of the numbers and not getting carried away with top-line growth for the sake of growth has been a critical factor in our success," he said.
Witt's favorite saying was "living well is the best revenge." He was a member of the Greenville Country Club and he loved traveling, entertaining and playing golf. His love for wine eventually landed the couple in Napa Valley.
Witt is survived by three daughters, two stepchildren and five grandchildren. The family is remembering Witt with donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research at www.michaeljfox.org/donate.