This independent box maker has seen some
tough times but knows how to keep ;ghting.
BY MARK ARZOUMANIAN | CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Back in the 1980s, Kim Hall worked for printer Port City Press and bought boxes from indepen- dent corrugator Atlas Container, Severn, Md., regularly. The box converter had been around
for decades. He always knew that he could call, place an
order, and get what he needed on time. Without fail.
In late 1988 Paul and Peter Centenari bought Atlas from its
three owners, Don Fleegle, Pete Taylor, and David Turnbull.
The transition period was rocky.
“Oh, my God, these guys are going to ruin a good thing,”
Hall remembers thinking. He contacted another box company
as a possible backup supplier. But he never had to pull the trig-
ger. The quality and delivery wrinkles were ironed out.
Today Hall works for Atlas, a company he once doubted,
as its vice president of purchasing.
The Centenaris hired him in 2000. He was immediately
impressed by their open-book management philosophy and
can-do attitudes. He also liked that they kept Don Fleegle,
who will occasionally drop by to help them with estimating
(Taylor and Turnbull have passed away).
Paul Centenari, president (left), and Ralph Layman, corrugator operator,
discuss how to eliminate warp on the corrugator.
“We have the same equipment out
there as most plants. But the difference
is the people. They are concerned about
the well being of customers. It’s a feeling
throughout the plant.” –Hall
“They’re completely above board,” he says of the brothers.
“Once a month they shut the plant down and have [company
assessment] meetings where they’re totally honest and open.
But their greatest attribute is that they genuinely care for their
employees; it’s not just talk. They have helped some of them
get their GEDs and others to stop smoking.” No wonder the
turnover rate is low and the company was named by Baltimore
magazine as a “Best Place to Work” in 2007.
“There’s no place to hide,” he adds. “You have 160 [the
total number of employees] sets of eyes looking at you.”
And what about the printer that Hall used to buy boxes for?
It’s still an Atlas customer. In fact, Atlas has been supplying
some of its customers for 40 years.
The brothers have worked hard to make the company a
horizontal organization with as little hierarchy as possible.
They want employees to make their own decisions.
Help Me Out, Guys
Preaching self-empowerment has served Atlas well in a period
of rising containerboard prices, which is what Atlas and its peers
went through in 2010. If customers are going to pay more for
boxes, they’re going to want to cut down on packaging and
have the boxes they do buy be stronger but lighter. Its designers have been meeting these customer requests by cutting
box weights up to 33 percent.
“We have young designers looking for new and different
ways to design boxes,” states Hall. Take D.J. Holston, the son
of Dale Holston Sr., a veteran salesman at Atlas. He started
working in the 250,000-sq-ft plant’s sample room in 2008. He
enjoyed the challenges designing boxes gave him and is now
on the road, selling boxes just like his dad. Earlier this year his
passion for devising design solutions was put to the test when