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Lifetime award winner Schwarz's box career was Americana golden-rule simple, packed with innovation

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Lifetime award winner Schwarz's box career was Americana golden-rule simple, packed with innovation

December 06, 2019 - 16:43

OAKLAND, CA, Dec. 6, 2019 (PPI Pulp & Paper Week) -In a 50-year career where his company grew from three people to one today that generates multi-billion-dollars per year in revenue, Jack Schwarz of Schwarz Partners was honored with the third RISI Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Containerboard Conference (ICC) in Miami Beach on Nov. 14.

The two previous winners were industry icon Roger Stone and Jim Porter, a top WestRock executive today.

Porter was on hand for the touching tribute for Schwarz that included a surprise appearance by the Kraft Group's Jonathan and Dan Kraft.

Schwarz told his business story, which seemed to epitomize classic Americana business virtues of hard work and innovation, with a generous touch.

"I hand stacked sheets when we started my first corrugator in Indianapolis in 1977. With a second mortgage on my house, a loan from my father-in-law and an SBA (Small Business Administration) Loan, I purchased a 65-in corrugator for $50,000. The machine was installed with my friend and partner Dave Darby, and our goal was to run 15 million square feet (ft2) of corrugated sheets per month," Schwarz told about 260 attendees at the ICC event in Miami Beach.

Today, in their 21styear, Schwarz companies convert almost 2.0 million tons of containerboard annually in the US only, said Porter of WestRock, the second largest containerboard and corrugated box producer company in North America. Schwarz Partners operates 13 plants running 14 corrugators that make sheets throughout the USA, and works with more than 50 sheet feeder plant partners. In all, Schwarz has 6,900 employees or "co-workers," including from the partnerships. Schwarz joined with the Kraft Group to create in 2012 the joint venture firm New-Indy Containerboard, which runs three mills and has plans to start up a fourth in kraft linerboard in Catawba, SC. (The Catawba mill also makes southern bleached kraft pulp.) New-Indy is the 10thlargest North American containerboard producer by capacity, according to Fastmarkets RISI figures. New-Indy's converting group consists of nine facilities, including two corrugators that operate under Carolina Container.

'Mr. Sheet Feeder.'Some in the US industry refer to Schwarz as "Mr. Sheet Feeder" and "Mr. Microflutes." He was the key mover on both, they said.

"What an incredible career you have had," Porter summed up, glowing down from the stage at Schwarz, who sat in the front row with his wife Gaye, and sons Jeff and John behind them.

"You have built one of the most successful companies in the corrugated industry. Beginning as a packaging salesman with Wabash in 1965 to CeCorr which revolutionized the industry by championing the sheet feeder concept. 'The New Corrugated Converting Model' you called it,'" Porter said.

"You are an incredible leader (who) demonstrates that good guys can win," Porter added. "You have demonstrated that a win-win philosophy and a nice guy approach is the most successful formula. I've heard you say, 'Business is Pretty Simple, Follow the Golden Rule.'"

"To me, people are the key to success in any business," Schwarz would later tell attendees. "I've been lucky to work with people I care about, most importantly my family. Gaye, my wife of 56 years, has put up with long, seven-day workweeks and all the ups and downs of running a business. I'm proud of our two sons, John and Jeff, who now own and manage Schwarz Partners. I must admit they're smart—maybe even smarter than I am."

He credited sheet feeders for their ingenuity.

"I've been involved in the startup of over 25 sheet feeder corrugators," he said.

"We give managers a lot of freedom in running their plants, with only a few restrictions on capital spending and paper suppliers," Schwarz said. "The sheet feeder plant partners take pride in their ownership of a corrugator ... and their ideas and knowledge of the market help make each plant successful."

"With the help of our co-workers, these plants have done much to help sheet plants reduce their costs," he said.

Trying to reduce cost.He told of "overnight delivery of cut-to-size sheets, eliminating stock sheets and slitter runs," of providing customers access to "place orders directly from their computers to the corrugator's computer, saving time and eliminating errors," and of providing "morning status reports to sheet plants so they can plan their production for the day."

"This kind of progress takes an investment in technology and some creative risk-taking," Schwarz admitted. "When there's new stuff to improve quality or productivity, we invest in it. We also invest in people who are willing to work hard and support the mission."

Schwarz Partners ran the US's first 112-in corrugator 15 years ago, and in 2014 ran the first 132-in corrugator, according to Schwarz. The company today runs three 132-in corrugators, including one triple-wall machine.

"Several of our plants now run over 200 million square feet (ft2) in a month," Schwarz added.

As for partners, Schwarz pointed out the Royal Group, which he said "started in the small quantity RSC (regular slotted carton) business" and "has grown from six facilities in 1999 to over 20 facilities. The Royal Group now offers a comprehensive range of products and services including high quality printing capabilities with three seven-color presses, two six-color presses and four four-color presses in our converting plants."

"I tell everyone we deal with: Everyone has to make a profit—the mill, the sheet feeder, the converting plant, and the box customer. If we all make a profit, we all keep growing," he said.

"I wish I had another 20 years to work with you," Schwarz told the attendees, in finishing his speech. "As long as companies need packaging to ship goods from point A to point B, our future is looking bright."

 A contact said thatSchwarz Group's new Triumph Sheets plant in Cleveland, TN, was expected to start this week or early next week. The plant is in a 357,000 ft2building that once housed aMeadWestvacooperation.

--bygrudder@fastmarkets.com