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Nypro Brings Global Workers Together to Celebrate 50-year Legacy

By Andi Esposito, Business Editor , Telegram & Gazette

To celebrate its 50th anniversary yesterday, Nypro Inc. took employees around the world.

Over 18 1/2 hours and traveling from East to West, the plastics injection molding company Web cast live presentations from 23 plants in 12 countries. Beginning in Hong Kong and ending in Juneau, Alaska, the event allowed many of Nypro's 15,000 employees at 66 companies in 18 countries to hear from co-workers and see what they were doing.

In Clinton, where Nypro is headquartered on an 18-acre campus encompassing the old Bigelow Carpet mill in the heart of town, the Clinton High School band marched down factory aisles and into the mill's lobby, kicking off the corporate part of the program at 11:30 a.m. under gold-colored balloon arches and next to food-laden tables.

When Nypro Chairman Gordon B. Lankton came forward to speak, employees erupted into cheers and applause.

"This is a little nostalgic and possibly a little emotional," said Mr. Lankton, who bought half the company in 1962 from Nick Stadtherr, co-founder in 1955 with Fred Kirk of Nylon Products Corp. In those days, there were only about 40 employees.

"Fred thought no injection molder should get bigger than $2 million in sales," recalled Mr. Lankton. When Nypro reached $4 million in 1970, "Fred said, `I want out of here. A company this size can never be managed.' And he left."

When Mr. Kirk retired, Mr. Lankton bought the rest of the company and Nypro began moving toward a global future.

The company opened its first overseas plant in Puerto Rico about 40 years ago, he said. It made plastic parts for Gillette's Cricket lighter and boxes for Johnson & Johnson dental floss and toothbrushes.

Today Nypro has annual sales of around $1 billion from operations in the United States, China, Latin America, Europe, Southeast Asia and India. In China alone, Nypro has grown from 50 employees and $500,000 in sales in 1993 to 8,700 employees in seven plants in five cities. Sales in 2005 from China were about $200 million.

Mr. Lankton told employees he never learned to run a molding machine and was a middling engineer, but was a "good cheerleader for people with bright ideas" such as attaching robots to machines and building clean rooms.

Another of those ideas was his own. In 1999, Mr. Lankton set up an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and announced he would sell Nypro to its employees, with shares allocated annually to eligible workers based on earnings. Today, Nypro is one of the largest employee-owned U.S. companies, and its program for global employee ownership begins next year.

In 2002, Mr. Lankton announced a plan of succession, naming Brian S. Jones president and later chief executive officer. Speaking to employees yesterday, Mr. Jones, who joined the company in 1987, described Nypro as "the most contrarian, innovative, unique, take-no-excuses company in the world."

No one would have imagined years ago, when they saw the Bigelow Mill buildings, what they would be filled with today, he said. "But it is not the buildings, but the spirit of the company that has made it great," he said.

Nypro has invested in Massachusetts - such as a new technology center in Clinton that opened last year - and also worldwide, including investments in low-cost markets, Mr. Jones said. In the past five years, 6,500 jobs have been created in China alone, he said.

Nypro invested $40 million to $50 million this year in plants and equipment, with equal amounts spent in Asia, North America and Europe. Operations are driven from Massachusetts, he said, but have a global perspective.

The company's newest product, for example, is Research in Motion Ltd.'s latest BlackBerry device, for which Nypro makes all plastic and mechanized parts. The technology and the know-how for the product come from Clinton, where the company employs about 1,000, but other operations are shared by plants in the Carolinas and Mexico, said Mr. Jones in a later interview.

He said Nypro no longer views itself solely as a plastics injection molder. Less than 50 percent of its revenues derive from injection molding. The rest are from product design, innovation, new technology, tools, testing, assembly, fill and logistics.

For example, Nypro makes a fragrance product for Dial Corp. "We mold, assemble, fill, end pack and distribute it," he said. "The customer does not touch it. Increasingly, that is the future of the company."

Nypro has about 1,500 new projects launched at any one time, and about half include product design. But Nypro's partner, Clinton-based global design company Radius Product Development, also has projects that have little to do with Nypro. Radius is currently redesigning the interior of the Chicago Police Department cruisers, for example, said Mr. Jones.

Al Cotton, company spokesman, said the idea for a global Web cast was developed a year ago. "We wanted to make the point that this is a global company, and it is a great way to get people to know one another," he said.

Dec. 1 was chosen because it was the first day Nypro reached an annualized level of $1 billion in sales, he said.

Also speaking were several employees, among them Patty A. White of Leominster, materials manager, who remembered coming to work on Saturdays with her father, Nypro retiree Earl White, when she was 10.

Kenneth W. Ducharme of Rutland made DuPont sample cups for a blood analyzing device when he got a job 25 years ago as a machine operator. Today he is manufacturing manager at the Clinton plant, with a focus on the health care market, including drug delivery devices such as insulin pens, breath-operated inhalers and diagnostic products for the fluid analysis industry.

The plant also produces products for the consumer, industrial, packaging and automotive markets.

Brian D. Payson, president of Nypro Clinton, credited the company's success to a "strong, ingrained culture driven by Gordon Lankton, a customers-first whatever-it-takes mentality."

Nicholas D. Aznoian, who joined Nypro in 1974 and recently retired as co-chairman, reflected on Nypro's place in history. "This is a country of immigrants, and the American dream is to work hard and be successful," he said. "Nypro is a personification of that story. To be part of this is the American dream. It shows hard work pays off."

Also speaking were Father Thomas Walsh of St. John's Catholic Church, who offered the invocation; Michael J. Ward, Clinton town administrator; Donald A. Low, Clinton director of community and economic development; and Robert R. Matthews, regional director of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development.

Nypro has had a profound impact on Clinton and its schools, said Mr. Ward. "But its greatest legacy is the transformation of this building into a worldwide leader in injection molding and the creation of good jobs so people could prosper," he said.

© 2006, Reprinted with the permission of the Telegram & Gazette

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