In 1954, Floyd Paxton invented the Kwik Lok closure, and the simple piece of plastic quickly became a preferred method for keeping bags of Washington state apples safe and fresh.
Today, Yakima, Wash.-based Kwik Lok Corp. has six factories, employs more than 330 people and its products have been used by billions of people throughout the world. Kwik Lok has been family-owned for three generations and now is led by three sisters, Floyd's granddaughters. Their journey to focus the company on sustainability has been a remarkable one. Sustainable Plastics recently sat down and spoke with the sisters about their journey.
Q: What is different today?
Kimberly Paxton: Kwik Lok's mission and purpose has always been to provide our customers with the best solutions. We have always focused in some way on how we make sure we are good citizens — that we are taking care of our employees and community. But in the past few years, our vision has evolved to be even bigger than what our grandfather and father thought of doing.
Our grandfather was similar to many businessmen of his time. Make a good product, sell it, people use it and they come back. Do that on repeat over and over again. Make it better as needed.
That changed when my sisters and I inherited the business. We didn't work in the organization. We are also the first women in leadership roles for the company. We brought something different to the organization at a time when the world decided to shake up everything about business.
We're dealing with a world that matches our hearts as owners, which is asking how can we work and do good while doing well? How can we take care of this planet so the next generation is able to thrive? Unfortunately, for the first time, the next generation is not doing better than we are in so many ways.
Q: What's it like working together as sisters?
Stephanie Jackson: Truly it's my dream. I was so worried when both our parents passed that I wouldn't see my sisters as much. This opportunity has been the "glue" that keeps us together. We weren't groomed for working in our family business. However, we were each out there learning skills and having experiences with other bosses and running our own things. That helped us. When we took over, we asked each other "why do we want to work together?"
Kimberly Paxton: We are fortunate in that we are not very far apart in our thinking oftentimes. But that doesn't mean your sister won't give you a truth that you don't want to hear. We help check each other. There are always moments when you're taking that deep breath and giving yourself pause so that you can really listen to what's coming in and not feel like it's about you, rather than your idea.
Stephanie Jackson: For example, the other day Kim emailed me and said "I appreciate your opinion. But I think this, this and this." We always know the intent, so it's just working through how you say it. Those kinds of regular family things.
Kimberly Paxton: The main thing is, we absolutely know for certain is that we love each other, that family is more important than business, and that we have the best intentions.
Q: How do you split the responsibilities of the company?
Stephanie Jackson: We all serve on the board and lead a couple of committees. Kim has most recently become board chair. CSR [corporate social responsibility] has been a passion of mine, and I started that focus at the company and have now transitioned to EDI [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion]. Melissa has now taken the lead on CSR.
Q: How do you keep your business and family separate?
Kimberly Paxton: Our initial evaluations from the board found that we were being too informal in our communications, so we created an Owner's Council. Today, we meet as owners and talk about issues at designated meetings and then report to the board. That's how we keep our business time separate instead of it always being a piece of the conversation whenever we talk to each other.
Q: How was CSR received at the company when you joined?
Stephanie Jackson: Initially, I expected everybody to grab onto it with the same kind of passion as I did. But first, we had to educate people. You need to meet people where they are. Thankfully over the last six years, we have come a long way.