What started as a construction company in the 1940s would eventually grow to be two businesses serving both the construction industry and the wood box business. Frank G. Ockerlund founded Ockerlund Construction just before World War II. With the war underway, there wasn’t a need for construction which prompted Frank to start producing wood boxes. At the end of the war, Frank was essentially left with two businesses and two sons. Both of his sons left the Navy and each took charge of one business. Frank G. Ockerlund II, took over the construction business and Robert C. Ockerlund, took over the wood box business.
Robert passed away in 1980 and his right hand man in running Ockerlund Container took the lead in running the business for more than 10 years. Eventually, the Ockerlund family decided that it was best to liquidate Ockerlund Industries. At the time, Robert’s son, Guy, was living and working in Washington DC in the marketing department of Hopmann Corporation. Before the family made their final decision on the business, Guy decided it would be best to come back to Chicago for a month and take a look at the state of Ockerlund Industries. What he learned was that the company had great potential. The decision was made to return back to Chicago with his wife, Sandra, and revitalize the family business.
At this time, Guy was the only active family member in the company; his three older sisters weren’t interested. Guy’s grandmother, Florence Ockerlund, was his biggest advocate as he began to take the reins of the company. Since both of Guy’s parents had passed away, his grandmother was his connection to the history of not only the business, but to his family as well. She supported and guided Guy as he navigated the company back to success.
In 1993, Guy and his sister Tracy (who acted as a silent partner) bought out their two sisters in 1993 and purchased half of the Ockerlund Industries facility located in Forest Park.
By 1995, the business started to take a new direction by creating a specialized product for United Airlines. In addition to this newer air cargo division of Ox Box, the company was also producing wood boxes and heavy-duty corrugated products. However, after 9/11 the airline industry changed dramatically and the air cargo division of Ox Box was dissolved as a result. This prompted the company to go back to its roots and reinvent itself in terms of wood boxes and corrugated products. Ox Box was forced to downsize from 50 employees to 25.
Despite many challenges, Ox Box grew and in 2005 purchased Tracy’s shares of the business, moved to a larger plant in Addison and invested in new manufacturing equipment. All in 60 days. Despite the chaos, Ox Box never missed a delivery to a customer.
With the company’s focus shifting, how would Guy keep Ox Box successful and innovative?
Luckily, in 2003 Guy was recommended to the Chicago Family Business Council by StandFast Packaging. The CFBC gave Guy and Ox Box the support they needed to get to the next phase. Guy was able to walk through issues and processes with his Forum which was perfect timing with all the changes he was facing. Today, Guy is also a member of his Trade Association and recently joined a CEO group for the corrugated box industry which provides him additional support and insight into the industry.
Five years ago, Ox Box introduced Eco-Shield weatherproof corrugated crates which enables Ox Box to serve customers that it could not before. Many of these customers need specialized packaging that can withstand the harsh conditions of the outdoors, including the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s rescue mission on South Pole Island.
The opportunity that this product provides is a huge success for Ox Box. However, it has been a challenge to change consumers’ perceptions of corrugated materials. Many people don’t believe that the boxes will be durable enough to replace wood boxes. To combat this misperception, Ox Box has worked hard to reassure consumers through testimonials and product sampling which show that the Eco-Shield crates can indeed do the job.
Luckily for Ox Box, Guy was able to see the potential of his family business and allow it to flourish in its niche market. It is still too soon to say if it will remain in the family but Guy has run the business with the intent of having his son come on board one day. Whether or not this happens, Guy is proud of how far the company has come and is confident that Ox Box will continue to be ‘strength you can depend on’.