Donald Snider

President and CEO – Paper-Plas Converting Inc.

By Gerda D. Gallop. November 1999

Donald Snider is quite familiar with the term “going out on a limb.”

During his lifetime, the 47-year-old has been a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchisee, a science teacher, a gas station attendant and an account manager for Randolph-General Medical, a medical supply company in Livonia, Michigan. In 1992, he was introduced to the paper conversion business as a consultant for Midwest Paper in Detroit, and was soon on the road to owning his own business.

Snider became interested in manufacturing, and learned that Midwest Paper had gone into bankruptcy in 1994. He attempted to purchase the converting division of the firm, but the selling price was too high. One year later, Snider made a successful bid but he didn’t have the capital to purchase the company. Undaunted, he changed his strategy; if he could convince one of the Big Three automakers that he could produce packaging paper (used to protect auto glass during shipping), one of them would finance his new business. As it turned out, Midwest had supplied most of its paper to Chrysler, which was looking for another minority firm to take over the contract.

“You have to sell yourself to those automotive companies you want to do business with,” Snider says. “If you fail, they don’t want it to come back on them. It prevents them from giving other opportunities to other minorities.”

After many months of wooing, Snider landed a five-year contract worth $750,000. But one problem still remained. He didn’t have a facility or the equipment to fulfill Chrysler’s contract. Through loans and borrowing against his credit cards, Snider was able to finance a building himself and equip it with the machines he needed to produce automotive packaging materials. Paper-Plas Converting Inc. was born in 1995.

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“I had a card table for a desk, four employees and my sister Valerie typed my invoices,” recalls Paper Plas’ president and CEO, who today heads up a $3 million, 40-employee firm with facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin. The Michigan facility provides conversion of paper products for shipping and packaging, customized chipboard, corrugated sheeting, coated papers and other paper products. It is Michigan’s only minority-owned Tier One supplier in the paper business. In Wisconsin, the firm packages after-market auto service parts and electronic components.

Donald Snider was named the recipient of The Business Innovator of the Year Award, which recognizes individuals who have successfully set trends and broken new ground in their respective industries.

“My goal is to expand into automotive glass plants and make this my niche market,” says Snider, who owns the only African American paper converting firm serving glass plants. “There are only six in the world, if I get [three of them], I’ll be in good shape. But you have to have a good track record. We focus on this and satisfying our customers.”