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Big Business Blast-Off

October 2000
Terry Fulwiler has kept WL Group grounded in family roots, while leading its trajectory into the package printing stars.

By Jessica Millward

ROCKET SCIENCE isn't exactly a prerequisite for most label converters, but Terry Fulwiler's aerospace engineering background has probably come in handy in his role as CEO of Wisconsin Label Group. The company, comprised of seven employees when Terry joined in 1972, has witnessed a meteoric rise in size and scope, joining tag and label luminaries in the upper brackets of packagePRINTING's annual converter ranking.

Though a new alliance with Superior Label Systems will send the company even further into industry heavens, Fulwiler maintains the employee-emphasis he fostered in the early days. For achieving a rare balance between big business and family business, Terry Fulwiler has been selected packagePRINTING's 2000 TLMI Converter of the Year.

Lift-off

Ray Fulwiler, Terry's father, provided the prototype for his son's future success. Wisconsin Label Corporation was founded as a pressure-sensitive label printing firm in Algoma, WI, in 1966, by Ray Fulwiler and his partner, Frank Knipfer. The co-founders' wives rounded out the employee roster.

Terry Fulwiler, born in 1950 in Algoma and raised there, didn't take a direct route to the family business. He attended the University of Michigan and received his B.S. in aerospace engineering, only to find, upon graduation, the United States' space race at a standstill. He joined his parents and the five other employees at Wisconsin Label in 1972. Through his first years with the business, he performed various functions: typesetter, head of scheduling, general manager, and eventually president and CEO.

In 1986, when Ray Fulwiler retired and Terry took over as president, Wisconsin Label enjoyed healthy sales of almost $5,000,000 in the pressure-sensitive label market. Soon after assuming leadership of the company, Fulwiler set his sights beyond the Algoma borders.

"The decision to grow was easy," explains Fulwiler. "We had many mouths to feed—Wisconsin Label is a family business, and there were big families." Fulwiler's first move was to start Label Graphix, a pressure-sensitive label firm based in Heath, OH. After purchasing a minority interest in WI-based Victory Graphics, Wisconsin Label diversified its interests with the formation of Wisconsin Screen Graphics in 1989. And that was just the beginning.

Fulwiler believed growth was "a good way to protect the business from fluctuations and sales cycles." He continued Wisconsin Label's rapid expansion with additional start-ups and acquisitions. By the close of the century, WL Group, as it is now known, would project annual sales of $100,000,000, with 80 percent of that figure stemming from internal growth. In the process, Wisconsin Label's workforce grew to include over 800 employees, and company capabilities spanned labels, cartons, commercial offset printing, specialty packaging, and application equipment.
 

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