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Milwaukee's Paper Machinery Corp. Turns Company Over to Employees

Donald Baumgartner was also the subject of a profile in the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Senior editor Matt Hrdoey spoke with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich about his impressions of the business leader.

The ancient Greek storyteller known as Aesop may or may not have really existed. The stories generally credited to Aesop are from the realm of the fantastic; they’re fables that seek to offer a lesson.

The employees of a Milwaukee manufacturing company recently might have thought they were hearing a fable. But it turned out to be a true story that was – for them – just as fantastic. And it goes by the name of ESOP, or Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

And the story was that Donald Baumgartner, the founder and longtime chairman and CEO of Paper Machinery Corporation, announced in May that he’s making his 200-plus employees the next owners of the company.

Baumgartner says he was inspired to create an ESOP for his company, because he's seen what happens when companies are sold. 

"My father had three companies before me, and I watched him sell all 3 companies... one went to California, two of them went to Illinois, and none of the employees went with the companies," he says. "I worked with my dad and I knew all these guys and I felt really badly about that, and I didn't the same thing to happen hear." 

He didn't want to relive those experiences. So for Baumgartner, an ESOP just made sense. "This company was not built by me alone. I mean, there's 250 people here, I'm one of them. My son John who's president of the company for the last 20 years or so, is another one. But there's still another 248 people who contribute every day to this company, and they need to be recognized," he says. 

Credit Donald Baumgartner

But just because he's relinquishing ownership of the company, the 85-year-old has no intention of slowing down. He and his wife recently announced an $8 million gift to endow the director’s position at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

And once the company is handed over to its employees, Baumgartner hopes to continue his rather interesting hobby: taking photos of exotic animals. "Some of these creatures are not gonna be with us too much longer," he says. He wants to see them in nature while he still has the chance.