Looking back on our roots

Last month would have been the 100th birthday of Fred Lee, founder of Industrial Packaging, dad to the previous Directors and grandad to two of the current Directors. The ability to identify opportunity, engineer’s perspective and tenacity that characterised Fred have also characterised the company over its decades of survival and growth since he took it on, back in the early 1950s. So we thought it might be fitting to publish a short piece about his life, which led to the establishment of Industrial Packaging Ltd.

Born in Dublin in 1921, two years after his father returned from four years fighting in the first world war, Fred spent the next decade of his childhood in India. Europe and Ireland were in deep financial depression after the first world war and his father – faced with unemployment – took the opportunity to manage a coffee plantation there.

When his father died, ten years later, of an illness resulting from his time in the trenches, the family had to return to Dublin, penniless. Fred's mother took many jobs, including playing piano for silent movies, to keep the family. Fred completed his education in a charity school for sons of war victims in London.

After school, Fred was lucky enough to lodge with an aunt in London and studied engineering. He started work as a rep for an engineering tools supplier, but in 1941 volunteered for the Royal Navy, when the second world war was esalating.

Loch Fada naval vessel BW photo

He went to sea in 1942 as an Engineer Sub Lieutenant on a Corvette named Loch Fada, which escorted convoys, chased u-boats and helped on D-Day. After that, Fred ended up in the Royal Indian Navy until 1945, clearing Japanese mines from the coasts of India and Burma.

On returning to Dublin, with the help of his new father-in-law Henry Maloney and his younger cousin Raymond MacGowan, he started a laundry, servicing hotels and nursing homes. Then he took on a bankrupt business with a small packaging section which made cardboard tubes and composite cans. He managed to get a loan to buy it out and renamed it Industrial Packaging.

A forklift worker in a factory with cardboard tubes

With a huge amount of hard work, ingenuity and luck, he made a success of the company, which provided for his large family, as well as the families of a growing number of employees from the local community in Dublin city centre, where the original factory was located on Harmony Row. The company expanded and moved, firstly under Fred to Blackrock, then under his sons Michael, Norman and Peter, to purpose-built manufacturing plants for tubes and drums (and warehousing for a growing distribution business) in Bray.

Parallel to growing Industrial Packaging, Fred and Patricia grew their family to six sons and six daughters. Fred taught all the family to sail, with a fleet of home-built and scavenged boats. His love of sailing endures to the present generation, with both Debbie and Rob active members of their local sailing club.

Fred died in 2016 and was buried in a cardboard tube, proudly made by his factory!

Cardboard tube coffin

His difficult upbringing affected his character, and some current employees may still remember his short-tempered side from the early days! Yet Fred always found time to help anyone he thought needed it.

His memory is a good reminder to us to work hard, play hard and help others.