APRIL 2012

A Closer Look E-mail the author

City Carton
Andy Ockenfels • 800-369-6112

City Carton, a second-generation family-owned company, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. Andy Ockenfels, the company CEO, said that there was a big family celebration as well as a business celebration to mark the event.

Besides being the company’s 45th anniversary, this is also the 20th anniversary of the purchase of the company by the second generation from their parents. “We wrote that check last month.” Ockenfels said of the final payment on the purchase. The company is now 100 percent second-generation owned.

In those 20 years, “we went through business planning and family planning,” Ockenfels said. While there are benefits to working with family, “it’s not always the easiest thing to do.”

He said that one of the challenges is being able to “keep the family circle separate from the business circle.”

One of the things the family has done is set in place very specific requirements for any of the third generation to enter the company in any sort of management position. Before any of the 11 nieces and nephews can come into the company, they have to complete a college education and spend some time employed by another company.

Part of the reason for these requirements is to let non-family employees know that they aren’t holding temporary positions waiting for family members to fill the space. So far, none of the third generation have joined the company, but “we do encourage it,” Ockenfels said.

Having those requirements in place before any of the third generation is ready for employment makes it easier on parents, since a management role in the company is not automatic.

Another milestone for the company is that for the first time ever, there is a non-family member as president. Ockenfels most recently held that position as well as being CEO, but the company felt that having someone outside the family would bring in outside expertise.

Forty-five years ago, Ockenfels’ father, Mort, started the company as a part-time business buying cardboard boxes from the nearby Proctor & Gamble plant in Iowa City and selling the reusable cartons. The damaged and unusable boxes were sold to a nearby recycler.

Now, the company doesn’t sell a lot of useable boxes, but it handles 220,000 tons of paper and plastic scrap each year. The company gets material from the entire state of Iowa and much of the Midwest.

The majority of the material comes from industrial accounts and from commercial accounts like grocery stores. They don’t do any curbside collections, but they buy from cities that do curbside collections.

There is a sister company – an offshoot of the paper business – that does document destruction. It operates as a completely separate entity, but the two work together with the shredded paper going to City Carton for recycling.

City Carton itself isn’t just a recycler. Besides collecting and recycling paper, the company sells and maintains recycling equipment for its customers and has a full-service maintenance division.

Ockenfels said that operating in Iowa is much different than if the company was in a more densely populated area. “We have to spread out more,” he said, to get more material to recycle. Many of the towns the company services have small populations and not a lot of commercial or industrial customers, which makes it a challenge to pick up the material in an efficient and cost-effective way.

At the same time, recyclable paper is getting even more scarce because of the push for a greener environment. “Sustainability is good,” he said, but the push for the reduction in packaging materials has also reduced the amount of material being recycled.

That trend has already started, and Ockenfels said that the company is preparing itself for further reductions. They have increased their plastics recycling and are looking at more of the “oddball” plastics. They have also begun grinding plastics to increase the revenue from that stream.

“Times are going to change.” Ockenfels said, and he wants to keep the company moving forward steadily through the changes.

He said that he keeps up with changes in the industry by talking to others in the business. “Everybody tends to do things differently,” he said. “It’s good to share the information. A lot is changing in the recycling industry every day. It’s set to take off even more. We have to change and adapt.”

And through all that, the company has been an entirely family-owned business. “We look to be here through good times and bad,” Ockenfels said.