The Century Club 2016
From linen services to packaging and construction companies, and from selling furs to machine bearings, DBusiness pays tribute to companies that are 100 years old or more.
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Glass bottles the company manufactures for Motorcity gas, a micro-distillary in Royal Oak
GOT TO KEEP GOING
It was the 1950s and two Grand Rapids entrepreneurs needed bottles to hold the contents of their first product, a liquid organic cleanser. Short on cash, the pair asked for and acquired a $50,000 line of credit from packaging distributor M. Jacob & Sons.
More than half a century later, the enterprise the two men, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, started became known as Amway. Today, the two companies are still working together. “They’re one of our largest customers,” says David Lubin, president of the Livonia company, now known as MJS Packaging.
Max Jacob, a Lithuanian immigrant, founded the company in 1885 in Detroit. In the 1980s, the company transferred about 30 administrative employees to Farmington Hills, and moved its entire Detroit-area operations to Livonia in 2010.
Every year, the nearly 10 employees at its 160,000-square-foot distribution center ship 2 billion to 3 billion units of glass and plastic containers, caps/closures, sprayers, pumps, flexible packaging, and packaging components nationwide. Most go to firms east of the Mississippi, Lubin says.
The company, which claims to be the longest-running packaging distributor in the country, currently has nearly 70 employees in nine locations, including a division known as Sprayco, a direct-to-retail producer of plastic spray bottles and other consumer goods that got its start in 1983. The division represents about 20 percent of MJS’ business.
Max jacob, shown at age 33.
The Jacob family retains 85 percent ownership of the overall enterprise and holds five of seven board seats; Max’s great-granddaughter, Deborah Jacob, serves as chairman.
Lubin say the firm’s name change to MJS came about in 2014, as the company expanded its reach into the Southeast and the New York area, as part of its plan to increase its geographic footprint via acquisition.
Expansion efforts continue. In 2015, MJS hired a fifth-generation member of the Jacob family, Matthew McDonnell, to direct business development.
“You’ve got to keep growing,” says Lubin, the first non-family member to lead the company. “If you’re not taking three steps forward, you’re moving back.”
Lubin has been at MJS for more than 20 years, first as CFO then COO, before being appointed president in 2014, succeeding Marty Jacob, the founder’s grandson. “(Marty) put the family business above any individual gain,” Lubin says. “He hired great people, gave them the resources to do their jobs, and treated them well.”
Lubin says the company’s conservative fiscal practices — which trace back to Max’s money-savvy son, Ben — and the loyalty of its employees, some of whom have been with the company for two or three decades, have helped it weather downturns and survive 131 years.
“The key, I think, was the third generation — Marty and Elaine Jacob, his cousin,” Lubin says, explaining why MJS remains a family-owned business.
Elaine Jacob hired into the company in the early 1950s, at a time when women were sparsely represented in industry leadership. She proved to be more than capable when she was charged with launching a plastics division, which contributed critically to its growth. She passed away in 2014.
“She’s the one who created the Wayne State connection, too,” Lubin adds, referring to the support Elaine contributed to establish the Elaine L. Jacob modern art gallery on West Hancock. The university also owns the Max Jacob House on West Kirby, a Mediterranean-style villa Max Jacob built in 1915 and lived in until 1924, according to WSU records.
Business development director McDonnell recently had dinner at his great-great-grandfather’s former home with WSU President M. Roy Wilson, Lubin, and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and his wife, the Hon. Trudy DunCombe Archer.
“It was definitely a special night,” McDonnell says. “I remember thinking while we were eating that all my relatives had been there.”