WEST SPRINGFIELD – When Susan Weiss Firestone sold her family’s business, Plastic Packaging Corp., in April to Placon Corporation, she says she knew it was the right time to sell.
“They are bigger than us. They are a large, family-owned packaging company that makes a different kind of packaging, but sells to similar customers. It was a very good fit, but it was a hard decision to make because it was a family company that my dad started,” Firestone said. “But the timing in the market was very good and the company was doing great, so that is the best time to sell.”
After the sale of Plastic Packaging, it was also the right time to give back to the Jewish community. Already generous contributors to Jewish institutions locally and nationally, Susan and her husband Bill Firestone established the new William and Susan Firestone Family Donor Advised Fund with the Jewish Endowment Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., contributing $500,000 to the fund. They also made a $200,000 contribution to the Franklin & Ruth Weiss Family Charitable Fund.
“The Jewish Endowment Foundation (JEF) is pleased to continue a rich history of working in partnership with the Weiss and Firestone family. Susan Weiss Firestone and her parents, Fred (of blessed memory) and Ruth, represent the very definition of “Generation to Generation” or “L’Dor V’dor” with their longtime volunteer service and investment in our Jewish community,” said Scott Kaplan, director of the Jewish Endowment Foundation. “With Ruth’s continued generosity and this donor-advised fund newly established by Susan and Bill, it will allow the family to make philanthropic recommendations to our local Jewish community, to other charities, and to pass that privilege on to Andie and Rachel, Bill and Susan’s daughters, allowing the next generation to continue to make a significant impact on our community.”
Susan said that she felt she needed to set up the new donor-advised fund right away.
“I actually felt the need to express my gratitude immediately concurrent with the closing…I couldn’t sell the company and not make an immediate gift, out of gratitude for the opportunities that I have been given and understanding that your resources aren’t really entirely yours,” she said. “We all have different gifts we’re given from God and some people are more financially successful than others, but whatever you have, it is not all yours, whether you have a little or whether you have a lot. I think it is a commitment to tzedakah, in terms of the tzedek – the justice part of it – that is very important to me and Bill.”
The Firestones set up the donor-advised fund with an eye on the importance of building a community.
“Scott [Kaplan] likes to call it a “parking lot” for your charitable money,” Susan said. “So Bill and I can consider thoughtfully about how we want to support the community. But also there are needs out there that we might not be aware of that we want to be able to help to address.”
Susan has long been a committed member of the Jewish community. She is the current president of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, and serves on various local and national boards, including the Jewish Federations of North America, United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the International Board of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning. She is a member of the JFNA Israel and Overseas Committee as well as the JFNA Global Planning Table. Locally, she is vice president of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Mass., where she chaired the PACE/LOJE program. She also serves as a vice president of Temple Beth El in Springfield and is a past board member of Heritage Academy, of which her children are graduates. She is a past member of the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet and is a recipient of the Philip E. Saks Young Leadership award.
Bill Firestone is the founder and CEO of Capital Recovery Group, LLC, a global industrial auction firm specializing in complex manufacturing facilities. He serves the local community by conducting pro bono charity auctions (which to date have raised over $5,000,000), is active on the Jimmy Fund Council, and is a former board member of the Springfield Jewish Community Center, the Hebrew Free Loan Association and the national board of Synagogue 3000.
“Giving tzedakah is a very important part of our lives. Bill and I are very committed to the community and to tzedakah and that came from my family – from my parents,” she explained. “So, it was very clear to me from my parents that everything you have isn’t really yours and your life isn’t just about you. So it is just natural that supporting the community is something that Bill and I have always done.”
A Rich History
Plastic Packaging Corp. was founded by Susan’s father, Fred Weiss, in 1954. At that time, Fred, a native of Springfield, was selling plastic housewares. “They kept making his accounts house accounts, so after a while, he said, ‘The heck with this, I am going to start my own business,’” Susan recalled.
Realizing the promise of the growing plastic industry, Weiss started the company, which manufactures injection-molded plastic packaging for food, with a partner in Leominster. He later opened a plant in Chicopee, eventually moving his business to its current location in West Springfield. Susan, who holds a BS in Economics degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, joined the company in 1987, working in various sales and marketing positions. She became president of the company 12 years ago, a year before her father passed away.
Plastic Packaging grew steadily over the years. At the time of the April sale, Plastic Packaging had 144 employees at its 100,000-square-foot West Springfield plant, which produces millions of plastic containers annually.
Placon, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin, has plants throughout North America.
“[Placon] is committed to this area, so they bought the plant and they hired all of the employees,” Firestone said. “So this was a terrific opportunity not just for me and my family, but for the employees, the community and the customers. I wouldn’t have really wanted to sell to a direct competitor that would just close up the plant and leave town. I felt very much that they were committed to the community, so I think this was an excellent opportunity.”
“We are honored to continue to have the opportunity to partner with Susan and Bill, and Ruth, and in the future with Andie and Rachel, to fulfill their philanthropic wishes,” Scott Kaplan said. “This family has taken to heart the statement, ‘Invest In What You Believe In.’ We shall be eternally grateful for their generosity.”