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Columbus Container.

Bob Haddad knows cardboard boxes, or "corrugated shipping containers," as they are known in industry parlance.

He should. He's been making them for most of the past 40 years.

But he also knows there is more to life than boxes. There are family members, neighbors and friends. And in a small community, they also could be business associates and employees.

Haddad is president of Columbus Container Inc., a steadily growing company he wedged into the market 18 years ago in Columbus, despite the odds against success.

Non-stop commitment to business and community earned him a number of honors, including the Indiana Small Business Person of the Year Award in 1985 and a finalist spot this year for the Indiana Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Social Responsibility category.

Haddad made two major investments when he moved to Columbus. The first occurred when he quit the company where he had worked all his adult life and, despite a market filled with big players, established Columbus Container.

Haddad and his wife, Helen, had lived in Columbus just two years and had grown to appreciate the quality of life offered by the community when his employer asked him to make his sixth transfer to another city. So, acting on an idea he had been nurturing for years, Haddad struck out on his own in the corrugated industry he knew so well.

Haddad was determined to be a full-service supplier, offering a wide variety of box types produced quickly in any quantity on short notice. He felt that a commitment to quality meant designing his own boxes.

Operating from a tiny office with only two employees, Haddad in his first year had sales of $270,000. This year, with more than 300 employees and plants in four cities, he expects sales to top $35 million.

His second major investment, this one in the arts, stems from a personal philosophy emphasizing corporate responsibility through community involvement.

Haddad and his wife had been active in music since their high school days together. He played clarinet in the band and orchestra, and was a drum major and student conductor. She was a voice major in college, and was accomplished at the piano, tuba, bass and drums.

The couple's enthusiasm for the arts continues to flourish. Haddad has been an active member of the Driftwood Valley Arts Council, and they annually sponsor one of eight Pro Musica concerts featuring Columbus' symphony orchestra. She continues to sing with the North Christian Church choir.

"No matter how small a company or organization you are," he says, "you need to contribute in some way to maintaining or improving upon the quality of life that we enjoy here in Columbus."

At Columbus Container, pay raises and advances are based not on seniority, but on the number of jobs the employee can perform. As if to make the point, Haddad can--and occasionally does--work on any machine at the plant.

"The No. 1 issue in America today is job security, and the only way to get job security is to make your company successful," Haddad says. "You can't just work 40 hours and pick up a paycheck on Friday.

"I try to get them to realize they're a part of the equation--probably the most important part," Haddad continues. "Morally, ethically, somebody's got to teach these people that they have a responsibility to themselves and their company."

For many years, Haddad made a habit of hiring only those who didn't already have a full-time job. Some saw this as the fulfillment of an obligation Haddad felt he had to the community, but Haddad also saw that it made good business sense.

"I don't want to hire someone who hops from job to job for the highest paycheck," he says. "I want someone who wants to work, who wants to stay with us and grow with the company."

Although he no longer strictly adheres to the policy, he maintains the philosophy behind it and is always ready to give someone an opportunity to prove himself.

In a new venture aimed at starting employees along the right track, Haddad this year started a school adjacent to the Columbus plant. Although it began as a way to teach prospective workers the responsibilities of working for Columbus Container, it grew into a consulting service that trains and leases workers to other companies.

While training can be tailored to the needs of individual companies, the emphasis is on basic skills, work and safety rules, appearance, attendance and introduction to continuous-improvement concepts. So far, the school has placed about 175 employees in several companies.

Like his entrance into the box business 18 years ago, the school was an attempt to fill a niche. Haddad has been filling market niches since he quit his corporate job and started taking short-run orders on his own.

Columbus Container has grown to include a trucking operation, a packing firm, the training school, a real-estate arm and a family of four manufacturing plants in Columbus, Seymour and Bloomington, plus Flora, Illinois.

"He's a classic entrepreneur," says neighbor and business associate Chuck Watson. "He stays close to his customers and the manufacturing process. He still has that fire in the belly."

Haddad, raised in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, started in the box business while still in high school, landing a job at the former Hoerner-Waldorf Corp. He attended the University of Oklahoma and earned a business degree in 1954. In that same year, he got married and began a three-year hitch with the Air Force in Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

When he returned to the United States, he worked briefly for Shell Oil, but soon returned to the box factory, where he stayed for nearly 16 years and progressed from local sales representative to general manager in Columbus.

Haddad proved his value as a troubleshooter. His renegade style of management and refusal to follow the book of corporate procedure sometimes irritated his superiors, but almost always pleased his customers. He demanded the best from himself and the people around him, always remembering that his employees were his biggest asset.

One year, two weeks before Christmas, the company failed to deliver payroll on a Friday as everyone expected. The personnel office in Chicago promised checks by the following Monday, but Haddad refused to make his employees wait. Instead, he drafted 150 checks from the petty-cash account at the factory and distributed them on time, much to the chagrin of bookkeepers at the home office but to the delight of his workers.

The anything-to-get-the-job-done approach has served Haddad well in his entrepreneurial career.

Hanging on the wall in his office is a framed quotation revealing much about the man. It talks about commitment in decision making and ends with a couplet written by Goethe:

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has a genius, power and magic in it."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Regional Report: South Central; corrugated shipping containers
Author:Gard, Jon
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Words:1144
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