Gordon Lankton, a member of the Plastics Hall of Fame and once the owner of major global injection molder Nypro Inc., died March 6 at age 89.
When Lankton bought into Nylon Products Corp. in 1962, the company was a $1 million job shop with one injection molding factory. By the time he was named to the Plastics Hall of Fame in 2000, the company had $550 million in global sales, employed 5,500 people and had 25 factories around the world.
Nypro was named Plastics News Processor of the Year in 1997. Two years later, in 1999, Lankton sold it to its employees through an employee stock ownership program. In 2013, the company changed hands again, when it was sold to Jabil Circuit Inc. for $665 million.
By that point, Lankton was the company chairman and he only owned about 1 percent of the company. At the time, Nypro had plants in 10 countries.
Lankton was a pioneer, a role model and a leader who helped start the careers of dozens of current plastics industry executives.
Brian Jones, a close colleague of Lankton for many years, cited some of the innovations that Lankton pioneered.
"Gordon was the king of firsts," said Jones, who joined Nypro in 1987 and served as president and CEO from 2002-06.
"He was the first guy who ever put molding machines in a clean room to do medical work, making it cleaner than an operating room," Jones said. "He was the first to use closed-loop, fully programmable machines for making perfect parts."
Lankton also brought Swiss-made Netstal machines to the United States, started an innovative automation company and started NyproMold, which with 500 toolmakers became one of the largest tool shops in the world.
"He was the first person to build a truly global [molding] company. Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Eastern Europe. Nypro was one of the first three companies of any kind to set up an operation in Russia, when they knocked down the Berlin Wall. It was 15 minutes from the Kremlin," Jones said.
"When China opened up to the West, Gordon wanted to be the first molder to set up there," he said.
Nypro made products that no other molder could manufacture, including golf balls and soft contact lenses. Before the days of the internet and personal computers, Lankton kept track of the far-flung Nypro empire by having every plant in the world send faxes to the headquarters, every day, tracking the profit and loss on every machine.
Jones also credited Lankton for doing "a wonderful job of preserving a National Historic Registered building," the Bigelow Mill in downtown Clinton, Mass., which became Nypro's headquarters.
He added that Lankton took great care of customers and employees, and inspired and supported youth robotics competitions. "250,000 young people have learned to love engineering because of that," Jones said.
Jay Gardiner, president of the Plastics Academy, first met Lankton when they served on the board of the National Plastics Center and Museum in the late 1990s.
"Gordon became a friend and teacher, and watching him grow Nypro based on his unique management strategy, while always finding time for giving back to the community, was a great honor for me," Gardiner said.
"His ability to negotiate manufacturing deals with regional and national brand owners and OEMs and use those deals to develop additional regional Nypro plants in a nearby geographic was absolutely brilliant and ahead of its time. His induction into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 2000 spoke volumes about his work and his person. Gordon was a giant in the growth of the plastics Industry, his imprint will never be forgotten, and many of us will miss him dearly."
According to a Plastics News profile published in 2000, Lankton's plastics career almost started in 1954, when he graduated from Cornell University with a mechanical engineering degree. During one job interview, he saw plastics parts being produced by an injection molding machine.
"To have something very complex like that, and to see it falling out of a molding machine every 20 or 30 seconds. It was just an amazing new process," he said.
DuPont Co. hired Lankton, but the company had to wait until he fulfilled a college ROTC commitment. Lankton served in U.S. Army Military Intelligence in Frankfurt, Germany, at the height of the Cold War. He worked with spies stationed in what was then East Germany, monitoring the Russians.
He passed a government exam and faced a choice: be a DuPont engineer or work as foreign service officer. That led to a famous nine-month motorcycle trip from Germany to Japan in 1956.
"I decided that one way to make that decision was to go around the world and visit embassies to see what these foreign officers did," Lankton said.
After the trip, he married Janet and settled down at DuPont. After two years as a DuPont plastics technologist, Lankton was recruited by Stanley Tools in New Britain, Conn. He was general manager of the plastics division from 1959-62.
But he still had other goals. He took out a half-inch ad in the Wall Street Journal: "Young engineer interested in injection molding partnership." That led to a meeting at Nylon Products, which Nick Stadtherr and Fred Kirk had founded in 1955.
Lankton bought 50 percent of Nypro from Stadtherr and teamed up with Kirk to run the company. He bought out Kirk and became full owner in 1969.
Lankton began to shape Nypro, in the 1960s, starting profit-sharing and stock bonus plans. Nypro embarked on a global strategy in the 1970s, and he added the first molding clean room in 1978.
Nypro got a reputation for molding parts nobody else could make — like the tiny nylon strings used by retailers to hold price tags. Nypro became the sole supplier, and that led to Nypro building plants in Asia and Europe.
After retiring from Nypro, Gordon founded the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., a testament to his love of the Russian people he came to know in the 1980s.
Lankton is survived by his wife, Janet, and their three daughters, Susan, Karen and Lauren.
Funeral services will be private. A Memorial Service will be held at a later date. Gifts can be made to The Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union St., Clinton, MA 01510 or The Nypro Foundation, 101 Union St., Clinton, MA 01510.