• Vale John Wellman 1936-2022
Founder of Wellman Packaging, plastics pioneer, innovator and family man
    Vale John Wellman 1936-2022 Founder of Wellman Packaging, plastics pioneer, innovator and family man

John Wellman, the founder and non-executive chairman of Wellman Packaging, has passed away just shy of his 86th birthday and a year before the celebration of Wellman’s 50 years in business. He will be remembered as a plastics pioneer, innovator, and family man.

In these years, the Sydney-based manufacturer of rigid plastics packaging has grown significantly from its humble beginnings in 1973 into a well known and widely respected supplier of bottles, closures, preforms, thin-wall and specialty packaging forming multi-decade relationships with many global Tier-1 FMCG brands.

Having grown up in the family’s delicatessen business that operated a number retail shops across metropolitan Sydney in the 1930s and 1940s, John was schooled from a young age in the food industry and knew what hard work looked like. As a boy he would ride the Bondi Trams in the early morning to sell papers to the businessmen heading into the city, jumping on and off before the conductor could catch him, and in the afternoon would sell pies and other snacks to the passing trade on the way home.

Entering the plastics industry in the late 1950s with Walter Barr, then one of the largest plastics moulders in Australia and part of the James N Kirby Group of Companies, John learned the plastics business and was deployed on retail clients including David Jones, Anthony Horden & Sons, Mark Foy’s, and GJ Coles.

Thereafter, and almost a decade with polymer producer Dupont in Australia and North America in technical sales and applications development, John returned to Australia and established Prototype Plastics in 1973, providing injection moulding services for the development of new plastic products. Offering low cost tooling to reduce the barriers to entry, this innovative concept was ahead of its time and is now embodied in technologies like 3D printing.

As his son Craig Wellman recounts, “They were heady days for a young plastics industry with many new raw materials and processing technologies being invented, like PET and polypropylene, which are now the building blocks of modern day packaging. Like so many of his generation, John had a pioneering spirit and we have sought to carry this forward in everything we do at Wellman.”

John was a founding member of the Plastics Industry Manufacturers of Australia (PIMA) and a strong advocate for quality and training. Leading a number of moulding companies to achieve their ISO9001 Quality Accreditations in mid-1990, John was also central in establishing the NSW Plastics Skills Centre that was eventually absorbed by TAFE. The Wellman family and its staff have continued this legacy of contribution back into the industry with a variety of office bearer roles with PIMA and the Australian Institute of Packaging over decades.

However, one of John’s significant disappointments has been the failure by federal and state governments to recognise the plastics industry as a separate trade and provide adequate training at both trade and tertiary levels, as is the case throughout the rest of the world especially Europe and North America. This failure has now resulted in the largest skill shortage the industry has ever known with the difficulty in replacing technical roles due to an ageing workforce threatening the industry’s future and all those who rely on it.

Wellman Packaging remains a family business that has come a long way from its humble beginnings of one machine and a single staff member to employing almost 40 people, in a high-end food grade operation with leading names in injection and blow moulding equipment like Netstal, Husky, Arburg, Uniloy and Flexblow.

While stepping down from active duties in the late 1990s when his son Craig took over the reins as CEO, John remained as non-executive Chairman and was widely known to be proud of what has been accomplished at Wellman, especially its E-ZERO vision for Sustainable Plastics Packaging and a “Better-Than-Carbon-Neutral” future.

As Craig puts it, “Retirement is not a word that exists in the Wellman vocabulary. When you start or build a business like Wellman Packaging, investing every day in the vision and values of what we share with our staff, our customers and other stakeholders -- who we feel are part of our family -- you don’t walk away. It is a question of passion, legacy and commitment which I expect will continue for generations after me.”

Known as a straight shooter, humble and a true gentle man with an infectious laugh, John was appreciated by his customers, suppliers and especially his staff.

“John would always say that in a ‘family business’, family and the people you deal with come first and the business comes second,” Craig said.

John’s contributions were recognised at function to celebrate his life this earlier week attended by close to 200 people. He is survived by his wife Robyn who continues to participate in the business, along with his three children and so far, 9 grandchildren.

Rest in peace John Wellman and congratulations on a life well lived.

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