Industry Legend, James Kress – Obituary

Green Bay Packaging, our industry, and the greater Green Bay community lost a giant on Sunday with the passing of James F. Kress.  Jim was a visionary leader guiding the growth and success of Green Bay Packaging during his seven decades in the business.  Perhaps more importantly to Jim, he was a faithful and generous supporter of the communities of which he, his family, and his company were a part, most notably Green Bay, Wisconsin.  His civic, social, and commercial contributions are immeasurable and irreplaceable.  He will be greatly missed.

Jim was born James Franklin Kress on June 11, 1929, in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He received a degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1951 and was Phi Beta Kappa.  Upon graduation, he joined the company founded by his father, Green Bay Packaging, until his country called later that same year and he enlisted in the United States Navy.  Jim served honorably in the Navy until his departure in 1955, earning multiple honors and three battle stars during the Korean War.

In 1958, Jim assumed leadership of operations for Green Bay Packaging.  He became President and Director in 1963, taking over for his father, George F. Kress, and was named Chairman in 1995.  During his tenure and through his leadership, Green Bay Packaging grew from 640 employees and four divisions to over 4,000 employees and 34 divisions in 14 states, seeing Green Bay Packaging become the largest privately-held corrugated manufacturer in the United States on his watch.  Jim continued to actively serve as Chairman until his death on May 12, 2019.

Jim was conservative in temperament and personal habits, but ever forward-thinking and at times heterodox in his approach to business.  He was an early adopter of the view that the company’s lands could be managed and its products produced in a more ecological, sustainable manner.  He spearheaded the expansion of the company’s land management and sustainable forestry efforts decades before such practices were common and oversaw the conversion of the company’s Green Bay paper mill to 100% recycled fiber in 1991, allowing the company to recycle more than 400,000 tons of wastepaper annually, an example numerous other companies later followed.  He similarly oversaw the Green Bay mill’s withdrawal from the Fox River and conversion to a closed water system in 1992, making it one of the first mills in the world to incorporate such a system.  More recently, as Chairman he approved the construction of a new paper mill on the current site in Green Bay, which mill will reduce carbon emissions by more than 90% and incorporate a novel industrial wastewater recycling system, while substantially increasing productive capacity.  Good business and good stewardship were never in conflict for Jim.

Jim’s civic and charitable contributions to the community during his life are too numerous to give a proper accounting here, but all of which were given in the genuine desire to improve the lives of those in his community and in the spirit that to whom much is given, much is expected.  True to Jim’s nature, none of these contributions sought, and very few of them received, much fanfare.