By R. Burton, Riverbend wRiters
The factory is located in an industrial area outside of the city. There is a chain link fence surrounding the old building.
A few trucks are backed up to the receiving dock delivering paper and paperboard stock.
A small van with an iconic printing ink brand on its side is parked near the driveway.
There are a number of small open windows located high up on the sides of the building. Through them comes the deafening noise of giant printing presses and box making machines.
At the fence opening for visitors the name of the company can be seen emblazoned on the front of the building, J.B. Printing and Box Company.
I know that J.B. is the tough minded, singularly focused founder of the company. He has built the business over many years. His reputation is not always seen as something that one would wish to emulate. His success however is obvious.
I sit in the car with my father across the street from the plant. A box of expensive cigars sits on my lap as I consider the chore my Dad has given me. Each year, I am told that Mother is not to know that we do this.
As a child, then pre teen and again now as a teenager, I find myself thinking about why we do this each year. But, Dad is insistent that it must occur each Father’s Day.
You see, Dad used to work at or near this location as a boy, a young man and as an adult. His past was not an easy one having been raised by a Father whose love of whiskey made him a less than reliable parent.
Dad’s Mom left him, his little brother and his Father when Dad was a boy. His Father, his Grandmother and his Aunts then intermittently raised them. While still a young man in his teens, he and his younger brother were dropped off at an orphanage. The various relatives were unable to care for them.
After being abandoned, Dad learned to fight in order to keep him and his brother safe. At the age of thirteen or so, his Aunt and her husband removed Dad and his brother from the orphanage so they could work in new start up. This was the beginning of the J.B. Printing and Box Company.
As a teen, Dad learned how to operate a printing press, how to set type, how to handle various industrial inks and how to keep his little brother safe from the gears, belts and pulleys associated with spending hours on end in a factory,
He and his brother became the uneducated, unpaid workers who would complete the jobs that would enable J.B. to build a successful business juggernaut. When the challenges came for printing on the six-pack cartons used to hold soda and beer, Dad experimented and was able to create and establish how it could be done.
This invention allowed J.B. to garner much of the soda and beer packaging business. It was the start of a thriving paper box and printing company.
Over time, Dad became General Manager of the plant, both hiring and training employees, ordering inks, setting schedules and making sure that the plant operated efficiently and profitably.
During this time, J.B. Senior’s son and daughter were given a private school and Ivy League university education. They learned to ski, play tennis and enjoy the fruits of the company’s success.
Once J.B. Senior’s son graduated from college, with a Master’s Degree, he joined the firm to be groomed as the successor President.
As the company grew and prospered, the workers were becoming more aware of the salaries in the marketplace for their skill sets.
J.B Junior replaced Dad with a new General Manager. The replacement was a hard charging, somewhat ruthless man who had left his prior job due to worker unrest.
A union representative reached out to the workers in terms of the benefits and salaries commensurate with other workers in their industry. The workers voted and decided to strike. Since Dad knew that the new General Manager was abusive to the employees, he also joined the walk out.
Once work at the plant had stopped, J.B. approached the union representative and, as the story goes, paid him thousands of dollars to go away. He then fired all of the workers on strike and brought in a completely new crew at even lower salaries.
I recall the difficulties in our home with Dad out of work and Mother keeping the house and family together. Food was a precious commodity and money was scarce.
Mom never forgave J.B. and J.B. Junior for what they had done.
I thought of these past issues and their effect on my family as I opened the door of the car and walked across the street to the entrance of the factory.
It is Father’s Day yet again. Another year has past since my last visit to J.B. Senior. Once inside the building, the receptionist questions why I am here. I say,” I am here to visit with my great uncle J.B. Senior.
She does not know me nor has she been at the receptionist desk before. She looks quizzically at me but decides to not question me further as she picks up the phone and dials J.B. Senior’s secretary Janice.
When she arrives at the reception area, she welcomes me while directing me to follow her to the executive wing of the plant. I can’t help noticing the oil painting of J.B prominently displayed on the entrance wall of the executive suite.
A small brass plate indicates he is Founder and Chairman. J.B. Junior also has a fine oil portrait with a small brass plate indicating he is now President and CEO.
As I enter the walnut laden inner sanctum of the Chairman, he sits behind a large burled walnut desk. In addition, there are a number of leather chairs circling a small conference table.
J.B. Senior greets me and we shake hands. After I wish him a happy Father’s Day he takes the box of Cuban cigars. We then sit at the conference table to discuss my future interests and progress in school. Although formal, he is pleasant and I enjoy our conversations.
He never asks about my Father, my Mother or family. Following our brief discussion, we again shake hands and I leave.
Although I know much of the story about J.B. and my Dad, I decide that I want to be a businessperson and preside over various businesses. My conviction is that I will be a more compassionate executive and will treat employees as I would wish to be treated myself.
It is years later that I understand that Dad is simply honoring the man who removed him and his brother from an orphanage, giving them some stability at a time of personal chaos. For that, my Dad was obviously grateful.