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UTAH PAPER BOX COMPANY: FAMILY BUSINESS TURNS OUT TO BE FUN - AND PROFITABLE

When Paul B. Keyser, president of Utah Paper Box Co., talks about his business and plans for its expansion - such as the installation this summer of a new $3 million, six-color printing press - his eyes light up like a kid's on Christmas morning.

When he points to the walls in his headquarters building that are laden with national awards, he glows with the pride of a father whose daughter has been chosen valedictorian and son has been named captain of the football team in the same week.In other words, Paul Keyser loves his work.

There's some irony in that, Keyser (rhymes with "geyser") admits. He could have gone to work in the family business a lot sooner than he did, but he had no interest in the company in his early years. In retrospect, he reflects, that initial reluctance worked out for the best . . . as things have a way of doing.

Utah Paper Box Co. was originally incorporated in 1917 as the Union Label Co. in a building located on the site of the present-day Salt Palace. In 1923, George D. Keyser, Paul Keyser's grandfather, bought the business and renamed it Utah Paper Box Co. - a decision based on the fact that the company was making a lot more boxes than labels.

George Keyser was then water commissioner in Salt Lake City and his interest in the company was strictly as an investment. Capitalization was $50,000. He hired a manager, Kirk Young, to run the company until 1952 when his son and Paul's father, James F. Keyser, took over.

Paul didn't completely avoid working at the family business as a young man, but he couldn't see a career in it. "I didn't like it," he recalls. "They expected the boss's son to be twice as good as anyone else."

Keyser started high school at East High, but at the urging of family members he found himself transferred out of East - way out - to an Ivy League prep school in Pennsylvania - Hill School.

Becoming a "preppie" was a big shock, he concedes. "I was the first Mormon who ever went there. They had a lot of remarks to make about Mormons. How `different' we are." Happily, Keyser overcame that cultural gap and graduated 11th in his class and as student body vice president.

From Hill School it was on to Princeton - no shock at all after Hill School - from which he graduated in 1962 with a major in history. Keyser's Ivy League education left him with a large debt, but "it was worth it," he assures.

Sheepskin in hand, Keyser went to work for Cummins Engine Co. in Columbus, Ind., where he stayed for four years and where his two children Carolyn and Stephen were born. Carolyn Keyser Aalberg now works for UPB in sales service, the fourth generation of the Keyser family to join the company. Stephen Keyser works for International Paper Co., one of UPB's largest suppliers, in Laguna Hills, Calif.

Keyser might have made a career with Cummins, but in 1965 his father proposed that he return to the company where he would have the opportunity to work his way up to the top position. After six months of long-distance negotiations, he accepted the offer. On reflection, he concedes, the decision wasn't really that hard to make. "I love Salt Lake and wanted to live here."

Still, he had to pay his dues as the new kid on the block, Princeton degree or no. "I started as pretty much a secretary," he recalls. "There were only four people in the office and my mom used to say I was her assistant. It was a real small company with annual revenues of $423,000." (This year revenues will hit $15 million).

In 1974, Keyser became president of Utah Paper Box Co., although his father remained active in the business until his death in 1978. Today, the company remains closely held, with Paul owning 60 percent of the stock; Mike Bean, vice president of manufacturing, 20 percent; and Wayne Sanford, vice president of sales and a 48-year veteran of the company, the other 20 percent.

From 30 employees when Keyser started, the company has grown to provide jobs for 135.

The business has changed over the years, said Keyser. The company's Rigid Box Division, 525 N. 400 West, in which UPB has been involved from the beginning 68 years ago, is the one that has grown the least. The reason, Keyser explains, is that rigid boxes - such as those used for boxed chocolates, for example - require far too much storage space for most retailers to accommodate.

"The rise of the shopping mall has really hurt the rigid box," said Paul. "You can't have a set-up box at ZCMI, for instance, because you'd have half the store filled with boxes."

Thus, UPB's growth has been in its Folding Carton Division, 340 W. 200 South, which makes a wide variety of custom folding boxes that can be shipped and stored flat and popped open when needed.

The division is currently expanding from 16,000 square feet to 27,000 square feet, mainly to accommodate new business manufacturing packaging for Orem-based WordPerfect software.

Other UPB customers include Maxfield's Candy Co., ZCMI, Cummings Studio Candies, Mrs. Fields Cookies and Sweet's Candy Co. in Utah; Sunrider in Los Angeles, Teledyne Water Pik out of Denver, Ethel M Chocolates based in Las Vegas, Artco of Rexburg and Trico in Buffalo, N.Y., among many others.

"We have long-term relationships with most of our customers," said Keyser. "With our, top customers, we usually do all of their boxes."

Keyser terms UPB's future "fantastic." The Roland 800 six-color printer scheduled for installation in August will give the company significant new capabilities. Few realize it, he said, but 60 percent of what the company does is printing; only 40 percent is boxmaking. Although he admits it's a claim difficult to prove, Keyser believes the new press, when combined with the others in the operation, will make Utah Paper Box the most modern carton plant in the United States.

"It's a big gamble," Keyser said of the investment in the new press, a massive affair made in West Germany that weighs 100 tons, requires 47 crates on seven trucks and will take four months to install. "But we feel that with the press and other things we've done, we'll be able to grow 50 percent in the next five years."

While other companies pay out 50-60 percent of earnings to shareholders, Keyser said it's UPB's policy to put 70 percent of its annual profits back into the business.

"I know that companies in California similar to ours are not reinvesting anywhere near 70 percent," he said. "We also reinvest 100 percent of our depreciation, which is sometimes more than the profit. One of the reasons our customers like us is because they know we do this."