LDI in Minnesota Business MagazineDate : 11/07/2009
Liberty Diversified International’s story began as many family business stories do: modestly and with no expectation of anything other than earning a decent living. Specifically, LDI began in 1918 with a Russian immigrant repurposing wooden boxes—more specifically, whacking them apart, pulling out the nails and reconstructing them at different sizes—and reselling them for small profit.
That immigrant, Jack Fiterman, was happy to be doing the work and appreciative to be in the United States, naming his company Liberty Used Boxes, in humble homage to what his new country offered him.
As Jack’s grandson, and current Liberty president and CEO, Mike Fiterman says, “[Jack’s] favorite day of the year was tax day. It was his day to pay the country back for the things they’d given him.” And, although what Jack had to give back might not have been much at first, it certainly was as Liberty grew.
“We started as Liberty Used Boxes, which turned into Liberty Carton Company, which turned into Liberty Shamrock, which turned into Liberty Diversified Industries, which now has turned into Liberty Diversified International,” says Mike of the cycle that Jack began, his son [Mike’s father] Ben perpetuated and Mike himself now controls. “The ‘Liberty’ has been the constant. My grandfather named the company and he named it that because he was a new immigrant and he was so proud and excited about the new freedoms he had coming from the, at that time, pogroms of Russia.”
As LDI’s name evolved so did its repetoire. Today Liberty does more than simply recycle old boxes—which it does still do, just in the form of corrugated— operating a diverse spectrum of business from packaging, to office products, to building products, to precision machines and health care equipment. But, more notable than the scope LDI has achieved under the third generation is the fact that it has also gone global.
“We are in a global business environment today,” says Mike Fiterman. “Within the last two years we have a design and manufacturing facility in Denmark. We have a facility in Poland. We have a facility in Mexico and we have one in Taiwan.”
The fact that generation three has seized a global business platform and forever changed the direction of what was once a simple box maker does not mean that LDI isn’t cognizant of the real consequence of their efforts.
“Most businesses, but in particular family businesses, believe in my grandfather’s philosophy that business is pretty simple [and that] if you take care of your people and take care of your customers everything else will take care of itself,” says Mike. “We know our family name is synonymous with the business name and that requires a value set that not only requires that we are ethical in what we do, but that we know that it’s not about us, but about what the company can do to make the world a better place, not to make our shareholders a little richer.”
“Am I doing my job of guaranteeing the legacy that my family started three generations ago,” is the question constantly in the back of Mike’s mind. “There is a feeling of obligation to not screw up what the previous generations have started.”
Family BizBrief | Liberty Diversified International
Headquarters: New Hope
Type of ownership: C-Corp
Revenue: $500M (approaching)
Description: Worldwide business focused on five core markets: paper and packaging, workplace environments, building products, healthcare and precision machines.
Family name: Fiterman
Principal owners: Family shareholders
Family members employed by the business: 3
Family members involved with the business: 4
Number of generations involved since inception: 4
Generation currently running the business: 3rd