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TODAY, Berkshire Corporation is the global leader in developing and manufacturing products for critical surfaces and controlled environments worldwide. But in the mid-1960s, the company literally “started from scratch” — scratch paper, that is.
Before he was Berkshire Corporation’s founder and CEO, Whitmore B. “Nick” Kelley was in need of money to pay for college. With an idea, he picked up waste paper from a local Western Massachusetts paper mill, brought it home, and began making scratch pads.
Calling his fledgling creation Berkshire Paper Company, Kelley was one of the nation’s earliest recyclers, taking waste that would have otherwise been headed to the dump and turning it into usable product.
Berkshire Paper Company soon outgrew the basement of his home. Rescuing a building slated for the wrecking ball, Kelley purchased and converted what would soon be his first manufacturing plant. He acquired used processing equipment, developed new manufacturing efficiencies, and built a steady base of customers — until business was interrupted by national affairs.
After a tour in Asia, Kelley returned to Western Massachusetts to pick up where he left off. Over time, he won back most of his former paper customers — they ranged from retail insurance companies to office supply stores — and he began branching into cutting and packaging services for local paper mills as well. With a prime location near Boston and New York City, Berkshire Paper Company’s products and services began to attract new clientele throughout the eastern United States.
In the late 1970s, Berkshire Paper Company continued to reinvent itself. After experimenting with new materials, Berkshire introduced a low-linting specialty paper for use in the emerging semiconductor market.
“I received an inquiry from a national semiconductor company in Utah,” Nick Kelley explains. “Attached to the letter was a 2×2-inch paper, accompanied by a simple request: ‘Do you make this kind of paper? If so, we want to talk to you about buying some.’”
In fact, Berkshire didn’t make the paper, but Kelley set out quickly to make it happen. Through a series of investigations and experiments with what he describes as “a derivative of teabag paper,” he created a low-lint paper expressly designed to reduce microcontamination. Labeled “Labx,” the product was packaged with the Berkshire brand name, and a new direction was launched.
Equipped with a rental car and a telephone book, Nick traveled around Silicon Valley in California to show his low-lint paper samples to technology companies. By the time he returned to the Berkshires, he had half a million dollars’ worth of orders.
Now known as Berkshire Corporation, Kelley’s company grew. It started its own lab, developed standardized testing methods for cleanroom disposable materials, and established comprehensive quality assurance methods.
In 1995, Berkshire Corporation’s Quality Management System received registration to the ISO9000 Standard, the globally recognized quality management system standard developed by the International Organization of Standardization. Since then, the company has launched a Lean Manufacturing training initiative through which employees participate in ongoing quality training focused on operational performance improvements.
“The key attribute in business is innovation,” Kelley says, “coupled with the drive for continuous improvement — and the integrity that keeps innovation and drive on track.”
Today’s Berkshire Corporation demonstrates just how well Kelley’s formula for success works. Over the past two decades, Berkshire has expanded its business overseas, with manufacturing and strategic sourcing operations in the US, Europe, and Asia, and sales offices throughout the US, UK, France, Japan, Singapore, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Mexico. The company now has more than 200 employees and 36 product lines, ranging from wiping materials and lens tissues to face masks and glove liners. Beyond the semiconductor market, key customers work within the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, both of which are highly regulated industries with special needs for aseptic processing.
Berkshire Corporation is a privately held company, but it is governed by an outside, independent Board of Directors. “Our directors ensure our company is guided objectively, with keen business insights and solid judgment,” Kelley explains. Board members’ blended expertise reflects an array of backgrounds, from manufacturing and publishing to investment banking and business consulting.