Fleenor: One printer’s waste is another’s product

The SF Business Journal and

It’s hard to make a business out of another company’s trash. Especially when that trash is the result of something companies endeavor to avoid — production error.

Such is the challenge for Fleenor Paper Co., an Oakland-based paper-converting company.

LeRoy Fleenor, originally a journeyman printer, started Fleenor Paper Co. in 1962 after witnessing the large volume of paper that was wasted in the printing industry. After creating a machine to convert waste paper into packing material, LeRoy sold the product to his first customer, Macy’s Movers, out of the back of his truck.

LeRoy left the company in 1984, and Fleenor Paper Co. was ultimately purchased by his daughter, Rebecca, her sister-in-law, Janine Rochex, and Rochex’s brother, John. It is now 74 percent women-owned.

The company is on target for $20 million in revenue in 2005, thanks to the sale of millions of disposable “paper blankets” to movers like Bekins and Allied Van Lines each year, along with packing material, paper tablecloths for restaurants and even shredded Easter basket paper.

Rebecca Fleenor, who started 20 years ago as the company receptionist, moved up the ranks through inventory control, accounting, paper purchasing, and operations. Along the way, she said, she fell in love with the business. She was chief operating officer before being named chief executive officer in 1996.

But, she’d like to point out, her success was not just because of family legacy.

“Despite being brought in, we had to earn it,” Rebecca Fleenor said. “John and Janine wanted me to be CEO.”

Under her leadership, Fleenor Paper Co. just expanded its manufacturing facility from a smaller building in Oakland to a 130,000 -square-foot building in Stockton, which also houses a number of new machines. The company recently acquired its first office space in Alameda, and has also expanded its nationwide distribution capabilities to include 15,000-square-foot hubs in Hawaii, Alaska and Seattle.

Fleenor brought a woman’s touch to the leadership of the company with her ability to recognize and reward talent in places where it previously would have gone unnoticed — and with her willingness to make promotions based more on hard work and less on academic degrees.

Ramon Cazares didn’t speak English when he began working in the Fleenor manufacturing plant. It was his work ethic and loyalty that caught Fleenor’s eye.

Soon, he was promoted to forklift driver. He moved up to the position of foreman, and then production manager. Currently, he is an operations manager, overseeing a Fleenor plant.

Regardless of the success stories within, the challenge remains in maintaining a steady stream of supply: bulk paper that has been damaged or print runs that have to be scrapped because of mistakes. Printers loathe to waste paper — the lifeblood of Fleenor’s business — and take pains to avoid such mistakes.

The solution seems to be Fleenor’s philosophy about ethics and business relationships, which she said has kept the company going through the inevitable lean times.

One striking example is Fleenor’s decision to tell a paper supplier that she was paying a competitor more.

“It was a dilemma,” she said. “Do I tell them? I do. It would be unethical for me not to.”

A difficult decision to be sure, but the reward was a loyal supplier who became even more loyal. And in a business where you have to “wine and dine” your suppliers, that is no small feat.


Company: Fleenor Paper Co.
Description: Paper converting company.
HQ: Oakland.
CEO: Rebecca Fleenor.
2004 revenue: $17.8 million.
Founded: 1962.
Employees: 131.

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