In 1956, J. Erskine Love Jr. started Printpack in a rented basement in Sandy Springs, Georgia, using a small dowry from his wife, Gay M. Love. Today, Printpack has 19 plants and 3,500 employees in North America. This spring, the company lost Gay Love, who became chairman of the company after her husband died in 1987. She was 90.
“Our mom’s passing marks a milestone in the history of our company, as she was a founding partner with our dad when Printpack started in 1956,” Jimmy Love, Printpack chairman and CEO says in a statement after his mother passed away on May 28. “Much of the initial investment in the company came from a small dowry from her father, so to say that Printpack is deeply indebted to Gay Love for our success over the last sixty-plus years is an understatement.”
A video on the company’s website notes that Erskine Love initially worked with with a used cellophane bag machine as his only piece of equipment. The company says Gay Love helped her husband develop relationships with Printpack’s earliest customers. By 1969, it had expanded outside of Georgia and now has plants in Mexico and the U.S.
Annual sales were less than $200 million in 1987 when he died and are now about $1.3 billion, the company says. All along, innovation has been part of the culture. The website notes that Printpack has 54 pending applications for patents and 114 patents that have been granted.
A quote from Erskine Love is printed in cursive in a three-dimensional sign on a wall at the company. “Be willing to encourage and accept change, to experiment, to explore the unknown, to take risks, and above all, seek excellence in everything you do,” the sign says.
The company was shaken after he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1987, Jimmy Love says. Gay Love assumed the role of chairman of the board and served for over 18 years. She retired in 2005 to become chairman emeritus.
“No one was more committed to our mission and confident in our success and future as a family-owned business than she was,” Jimmy Love says about his mother.
“More important than our size, though, is the philosophy on which our business was founded. Our focus on people, our core values and principles, and the way we think about our family business today, are all based directly on the personal values that our parents shared, practiced, and demonstrated throughout their lives, which remain firmly embedded in Printpack today,” Jimmy Love says.
The company’s focus on family values was evident during the pandemic. The manufacturer of flexible and rigid packaging makes products used in everything from fresh produce to frozen food to snacks and medical packaging, so it was deemed a critical infrastructure business at the start of the crisis.
“One of Printpack’s founding principles is that our people are our greatest asset,” the company says in a news release prepared early in the pandemic. The company stayed focused on protecting workers while also giving back to the community. It dedicated some of its facilities to create hand sanitizer when there was a shortage. And some workers made face masks and face shields for healthcare workers.
Involvement in the community can be seen, as well, through The Gay and Erskine Love Foundation that was founded in 1976. It is primarily funded with contributions from Printpack and supports a variety of organizations, including educational, human services, religious, arts, and health-related institutions. Gifts have been more than $53 million and have gone to more than 500 national and local organizations since the foundation formed, the company says.
For her work in Atlanta, Gay Love was named “Philanthropist of the Year” by the Atlanta Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2002.
“Gay was a teacher, businesswoman, community leader, and philanthropist—but above all a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother,” reads her obituary. “… Gay was a farm girl, the second of four daughters, born June 16, 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression to Dennis Torbet and Madge Jenkins McLawhorn of Winterville, NC.”
She was graduated from Duke University in 1951 and moved to Atlanta to work in sales and merchandising for Rich’s Department Store. She met Erskine, a Georgia Tech graduate, in Atlanta. They were married in her hometown of Winterville on Feb. 6, 1954, two years before Printpack was founded.
“Most importantly, our mother, Gay Love, was an active, engaging, and loving mother of six, grandmother of twenty-one, and great-grandmother of seven—and counting—who was fondly known to both family and friends as ‘Gayma.,’” Jimmy Love says.
“She loved traveling the world, but with her expansive family, her weekly calendar was filled for much of the last four decades attending swim meets, tennis matches, soccer, baseball, and lacrosse games, concerts, plays, graduations, weddings, baptisms, and birthday parties, and she rarely missed anything.”
Thomas A. Barstow is senior editor at FlexPack VOICE™.