August 24, 2019
Ball Family Members Share Remarks at Chamber of Commerce Legacy Gala
Two members of BBF’s board shared remarks at the Muncie-Delaware County Chamber of Commerce Legacy Gala on Saturday, August 24. BBF’s Chairman & CEO Jim Fisher and board member Stephanie Duckmann shared family perspectives.
A copy of their prepared remarks is included below.
Jim Fisher, Prepared Remarks:
Thank you, Steve, for that kind introduction and thank you to Jay Julian and the good folks at the Chamber who have been so thoughtful in recognizing the Ball family with this honor. And thank you to Jud and the entire Ball Brothers Foundation staff for assisting in all of the arrangements for our family members. It is humbling for our family to be recognized like this. Today, there are four generations and well over 200 living members of the Ball family spread across the world, and I’m honored to be here tonight, along with several others, representing the family which still cares deeply for this community.
Although the story of the Ball family is not all about the corporation the brothers founded, the histories of both are inextricably intertwined. Any company whose name is the same as the founding family and remains unchanged for nearly a century-and-a-half and that even today acts as the glue to help keep a family and a community connected is a truly amazing story.
I am still impressed, as I reflect on the story of the Ball brothers, at their tremendous tenacity and unending pursuit of the next innovation, the next product. It must have been remarkable in the years after the brothers moved here to Muncie to see their business expand exponentially.
Over the decades that followed the company’s establishment in Muncie, an entrepreneurial, problem-solving spirit would define its direction and progress as it continued to expand its product lines; acquired high-tech equipment, patents, and explored and bought and sold other related and sometimes unrelated businesses. As my dad once said, “We seem to have a propensity to take on an opportunity and then know what to do with it.” None of this would have been possible without the support and involvement of Muncie’s citizens.
And the many paths of this journey certainly varied beyond its iconic glass business. For example:
- During WWII the company was thick in the war effort while many members of the family actively served overseas and while hundreds of Ball employees went into the armed services. Those who remained behind re-tooled Ball’s production lines, making parts for 30 and 50-caliber shells, parts for diesel engines used in landing barges, as well as aircraft components.
- In the years that followed, the company evolved much of this technology to make zinc battery shells that would be used to power children’s toys, flashlights, and portable radios; metal production that would supply a large percentage of the engravers’ plates used by major newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and other countries; zinc penny blanks for the U.S. Mint, plastic moldings used in automobiles and on buildings, and eventually, tremendous innovations in aerospace research and development, and practices that would influence the company’s manufacturing.
- This research and development arm of the company would become involved with NASA and the DOD in various aspects of the United States’ early space program and defense, going on to create components that would launch research satellites into space to study the sun and other stars; aid in predicting weather patterns, tracking ocean traffic, and monitoring pollution, crop disease, and forest fires; and develop products that made it possible for humans to walk on the moon and repair the Hubble telescope.
None of these innovations or products would have been possible without the tremendous dedication, support, and entrepreneurial spirit of the men and women of Muncie who transformed the dreams of five brothers into reality.
There is no doubt that for this company, for this family, and for the community of Muncie, there were good times and bad times during these many decades. There were failures of some of the corporation’s businesses, departures and the passing of giants from the company and this city. Few corporations last as long as Ball Corporation. Most are bought or sold, they’re consolidated, or they fail, their names and often their founding communities disappear or are swallowed up.
But Ball Corporation-and this city-have survived and thrived—even during the worst of times—by innovating, by being open to change, trying new ideas, and most importantly, by being grounded in a solid business-like, but compassionate Midwestern work ethic that is part of the DNA of Muncie.
The company survived by making difficult but necessary choices, such as going from a private, family-owned business to publicly-held one, even abandoning businesses that were overtaken by technology or were unsustainable, such as the zinc, plastic and, sadly, glass businesses. It is, truly, remarkable that what started here in Muncie, Indiana has expanded into what it is today.
When I started working for the company in 1976, its total sales were less than $500 million, from around 8,000 employees, 20 or so facilities, and 4 overseas operations. Today, Ball Corporation’s total sales are $11.6 billion and is the largest manufacturer of aluminum cans in the world, producing 30 billion of the nearly 100 billion world-wide aluminum can market with 17,500 employees located around the world.
And while the Corporation no longer produces the ubiquitous glass jars that carry the Ball name, each can they make at plants on 4 different continents still prints a tiny Ball logo as identification somewhere on it. I would love to see the wonder on the faces of the Ball brothers if they knew that the few hundred dollars loaned to them by their uncle would now be worth nearly $26 billion!
Never content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to push new innovations. One favorite is a new “Ball”-branded, recyclable, aluminum cup to replace the popular plastic Solo cup with something more environmentally friendly. It is working with water companies to provide an aluminum alternative to the plastic bottles and wine companies to package product in more environmentally friendly cans.
Today, the Corporation’s aerospace division remains a major player in the industry with its participation in long-developing programs like the James Webb Deep Space Telescope, and just this summer working with NASA, the Air Force, and others to launch a “Ball” satellite into space that is fueled by “green propellants and propulsion systems.” Today, those timeless values that were instilled in the original Ball brothers (and their sisters) by their parents live on—innovation, entrepreneurship, a tireless pursuit of excellence; not just in the corporation, but also in this city.
Not just the family, but all of us have much to be proud of—this story was birthed right here in Muncie and continues today with the corporation that carries the Ball name and its philosophy of how to treat shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities in which they located facilities with respect and compassion.
Just recently I saw an article in the “Wall Street Journal” that read, “Top CEO’s Say Companies Have Obligation to Society.” I had to chuckle because the Ball brothers instilled this very notion into the company’s behavior over 150 years ago. Indeed, I am reminded of remarks that Ed Ball made years ago: “Far from being a faceless, soulless institution, a corporation is a living thing, the result of many events, the product of so many who have played a part in shaping its destiny.” In many ways, Ball Corporation has been ahead of its time.
And all of this continues today in those communities with Ball facilities, wherever they are around the world. Recently, Ball Corporation’s own foundation gave over $1 million to the University of Colorado to help fund a new aerospace engineering building. This is an example of how today’s leaders at Ball continue the legacies and philosophies of a company and its birthplace here in Muncie.
There is a tradition of “making” here—a tradition of innovation—that lives on today. This is a community of hard-working, industrious people who will stop short of nothing to accomplish great things. Our family is in awe of your tenacity.
We’re heartened by the revitalization that we see in downtown Muncie and by this community’s commitment to reinvent the public school system along with Ball State University to prepare students for the future of work, for meaningful careers in which they can address problems and create tremendous products much like the Ball brothers did. We’re delighted by the blossoming arts and culture scene which inspire creativity. And we are proud of the excellent healthcare the Ball family started and continues so successfully today at IUBMH. And, finally, we’re inspired by the community’s collective work to make Muncie and Delaware County an even better place to live and work.
Our family is proud to be part of the Muncie’s history—and even prouder to be part of this city’s great future. Thank you very much.
Stephanie Duckmann, Prepared Remarks:
On behalf of the Ball family, thank you sincerely for this very meaningful recognition. It is certainly humbling for our family to be recognized in this way. While I did not grow up here, I visited my grandparents—John and Janice Fisher—often and learned the history of the Ball family and the story of Muncie. I am proud to continue to help write the next chapter as part of the 4th generation of Ball family members serving the community. As I reflect back on what has been shared tonight about the legacy of the Ball brothers, I am struck by the themes of constant improvement, innovation, entrepreneurship, and community betterment that are woven throughout this narrative of the past 100+ years.
Like Jim, I share an enthusiasm for the future of Muncie and Delaware County. I, too, see this community as one of “makers” and of dreamers…and of “doers.” The people of the community are resilient. You are problem-solvers and challengers of the status quo. The tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship is embedded deeply here in Muncie.
The Ball family remains committed to supporting the revitalization of this community and the reimagining of its future. I am deeply encouraged by the innovative, thoughtful funding proposals that the George and Frances Ball Foundation, Ball Brothers Foundation, and the Edmund F. & Virginia Ball Foundation receive each year.
Through the support of these foundations and through other contributions made by Ball family members, we are honored to play a small role in helping to drive forward the incredible visions of people here in Muncie who are working every day to improve this community.
My grandfather, John Fisher, was fond of saying that Ball Corporation was an “important investment in ‘people and ideas.’ The people are those diligent employees…their ‘ideas’ are those new approaches to diverse products,” he would say.
I believe that same spirit carries on today through our family’s philanthropy. We are honored to carry on this legacy of investment in people and ideas through grantmaking and continued involvement in this wonderful city that our great grandparents called home.
Simply put, thank you. Thank you for inviting our family to Muncie over a century ago. Thank you for helping to turn the dreams of five brothers into a reality. Thank you for innovating alongside our family as we all worked together to make products that changed the course of history. Finally, thank you for the privilege of allowing us to walk alongside you as you change the course of the city’s future.