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Clinton, MA with Gordon Lankton

January 1, 2006

3 Min Read
Clinton, MA with Gordon Lankton

At age 26, after a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army, Gordon Lankton spent a year riding a motorcycle around much of the world: Europe, the Middle East, India, Singapore, and the Philippines. He didn''t know it at the time, but he was scoping out sites for future plastics manufacturing plants.

Last month Nypro, the business Lankton founded, celebrated its 50th

year in existence. Long before the words "global" or "outsourcing" became contemporary business jargon, Lankton began a drive in the late 1970s at then single-site Nypro Inc. to become a manufacturing partner with the world''s biggest and best-run companies and follow them around the globe. Nypro now has 66 plastics-related operations in 18 countries, has annual sales approaching a billion dollars, and derives 23% of its sales from China, where it has 7,500 employees.

While the United States'' automotive supply chain became a shambles and many American manufacturers and politicians cried foul, Lankton built Nypro into a profitable (4% return on sales) contract-manufacturing giant that succeeded at the global outsourcing game. Lankton is a good businessman without question, but a strong streak of idealism separates him from the pack.

"One of the things very much on my mind is the disparity of incomes around the world," Lankton told MPW. "When I came back from the motorcycle trip I decided that was one thing I really wanted to work on." That explains, in part, why Lankton decided in 1991 to locate an injection molding plant in Moscow, before the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union.

Lankton had participated in an economic development tour sponsored by the Soviet government in 1989 and Nypro was the only one of 100 visiting companies to site a plant in Russia. Lankton plowed ahead despite opposition from Nypro''s counsel and a decision by a major healthcare partner to abandon Russian manufacturing plans. The plant lost money as it fought red tape, the Russian mob, customers who wouldn''t pay, and other obstacles.

"It was a very, very sad situation, but I wasn''t about to give up on them," comments Lankton.

"I thought these people have half of the nuclear weapons in the world and we should be friends with them. I also felt someone should teach them the benefits of the free enterprise system."

As chairman of Nypro, Lankton still manages the plant in Moscow as well as one in India, one of his favorite stops on the motorcycle tour. His outlook on Russian business is growing more positive: it''s a low-cost country with a huge market and significant potential.

Lankton''s love for Russia is evident today through a collection of Russian icons, the largest in the United States. Several hundred years old, the icons are wooden paintings of religious scenes and were on display recently at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, MN. They will be housed soon in a Museum of Russian Icons that Lankton is building in Clinton, MA.

Lankton''s idealism has taken shape in other areas as well. From day one, he has reported Nypro''s financial results to employees. Lankton also initiated cash profit sharing, which is disbursed to all employees on a quarterly basis. The concept is particularly appreciated by both Chinese employees and a government-owned joint venture partner. Lankton turned over ownership of the company to an employee trust and today the company is one of the 20 largest employee-owned companies in the United States. Also, Nypro has joint ventures with diverse suppliers, such as a native Alaskan group.

Almost five years ago, Nypro became a "diversity" supplier, going into the molding business with Sealaska Corp., a native Alaskan company. Nypro bought an ownership position in Sealaska''s TriQuest molding facility in Guadalajara, Mexico. The plant quickly became a leader in global revenues for Nypro, capitalizing on drives by major companies to include diverse companies in their supply bases.

And through it all, 50-year-old Nypro became one of the world''s most financially successful plastics manufacturing companies.

Doug Smock [email protected]

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