Overseeing an Industrial Resurrection
Veteran businessman uses old-school values to steer 21st century enterprise
It’s not difficult to get Arthur Bott talking about his Grand Rapids Plastics business, and the impact that it’s had over the years – both on the industries it serves and on the people it employs.
What is a challenge, however, is getting the company’s faith-driven founder to take any credit for what’s taken place since the doors first opened back in the 1970s.
In fact, whenever it comes time to accept congratulations, he looks skyward.
“It’s all because of one thing,” he said. “It really was divine intervention that gave me the thought. And when God calls, you’d better answer the phone. You start thinking about what the purpose of life is all about. The miracle of all miracles. Grand Rapids Plastics in itself is a miracle.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. It really comes from God. He’s given me the vision on this and all I can say is that I’m just trying to be what Christ would want me to be.”
These days, the 80-year-old presides over a company he believes is somewhat symbolic of the economic tumult sustained throughout both the city and state during the recent Great Recession.
Grand Rapids Plastics had grown into a $300 million entity with 300 employees by the time Bott sold it and retired in 2001, but he returned a few years later after a series of failed leaders in the interim ultimately forced the company into bankruptcy. All assets other than the equipment and real estate Bott personally owned were auctioned off in 2003 and the company name was abandoned as well, leaving it available for him to reclaim on April 29, 2005 – the day he looks upon as a rebirth.
“You can be a believer or not be a believer, but one thing we can agree upon is that the one thing we’re going to take to our grave is our name. Nothing else,” Bott said.
“So when you start taking a look at the stewardship of your time, your talent and your financial resources, the most important aspect of life is your name. My father reminded me many years ago to take good care of the family name. I had the money because I live modestly. God called and I answered the phone. The best thing I could do for my community was to invest in Grand Rapids.”
He was back in business by 2006 as a manufacturer of replacement auto parts and parlayed the purchase of additional injection-molding equipment – much of it made available when other companies went belly-up – into parts-making contracts with surviving Michigan-based companies like Lacks Enterprises, Johnson Controls and Magna Donnelly.
A return to full-throated legitimacy arrived when Chrysler became a client, and, by 2011, the return to prominence warranted a $1 million internal investment to transform the company’s existing headquarters location into another molding facility – its sixth.
“There are more people alive on the face of the earth today than have ever died from beginning of time, and that’s a lot of cars,” he said. “So someone’s going to be buying cars. I decided it was in the best interest of my own people, first of all, that I came out of retirement – not because of greed, not because of need, but because there were people in Grand Rapids that had to be helped.
“At one time, in Grand Rapids, we were a substantial employer in the Wyoming Industrial Park. Today, I’d say that we’re up to about 70 percent of one block – with six plants all functioning.”
Those plants are home to an array of nearly four dozen plastic injection molding machines that range in size from 40 to 3,000 tons and can produce mold sizes from 10.6 x 10.6 inches to 118 x 100 inches.
Technical advantages include robotic automation, assembly and sequential valve gate molding, while decorating services include pad print, hot stamp, heat transfer, in-mold, insert molding and painting. The company also partners with several painting businesses in and around Grand Rapids.
And the acclaim Bott has received isn’t limited solely to the bottom line.
He’s one of 33 nominees up for recognition as Entrepreneur of the Year in Michigan and Northwest Ohio by Ernst and Young, which will name the winner at a June 5 awards gala in Detroit. The organization’s national award winner will be feted at a November event in Palm Springs, Calif.
The award celebrates entrepreneurs who’ve demonstrated innovation and achieved success in innovation and financial performance while maintaining a personal commitment to both their businesses and their surrounding communities.
“He’s probably too modest to tell anyone he was even nominated,” said Bott’s son, Jerry, who’s now the company president. “He’s never looking for applause or a pat on the back. That’s just the man he is and has always been.”
Going forward, it’s presumably the way he’ll remain, too.
A continued beneficial relationship will be necessary to ensure the company’s growth; a growth, incidentally, that has come solely by word of mouth because Bott employs no salesmen. He hopes to reduce the overall corporate debt thanks to advantageous financing from the Small Business Administration and local banks.
“Once we get that under control, we can be whoever we want ourselves to be,” he said. “All we have to do is just duplicate it over again. We can take this model – the stewardship of our time, our talent and our financial resources – to help people help people. Because that’s what it’s all about.
“People have lost perspective on what life is all about. We’re here to help each other.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Grand Rapids Plastics
WHAT: Provider of high-quality, precision plastic injection molding for several industries, including automotive, home, sport/recreation, construction and electronics
WHERE: Grand Rapids, Mich.