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NJ Company Celebrates Its Emergence From the Floods of Irene


Union, N.J., (January 11, 2012) After a natural disaster, one often hears business leaders optimistically talk about rebuilding and emerging stronger than before. But deep inside one wonders how doable it will be, no matter how noble the intent, or how much a person admires the determination.

The story of one Union, New Jersey-based company, however, can make a believer out of the most skeptical among us.

Hurricane Irene caused major damage to the robust and diverse packaging distributor, O.Berk Company, Inc. In a matter of hours, this 101-year-old company was inundated by the historic and destructive storm. Irene had pushed floodwaters into its Union headquarters well above knee level.

O.Berk’s president and CEO, Mark Gaelen, recalls the storm’s aftermath as if it were yesterday. “When I went down to our building the entire street was flooded. It looked bad, but we really had no idea how bad, until we went in. There was over a foot of water throughout the entire building. In our 101 years in business, nothing like this had ever happened to us.”

One can only imagine the thoughts that ran through Gaelen’s mind that Sunday morning. But, as in dealing with any disaster, it helped to have a plan in place. Recovery methods were quickly put to the test, and every option for renewing normal operations was put on the table. As unlikely as it must have seemed at first look on that Sunday morning, by Tuesday of that very week, O.Berk trucks were delivering product. At the same time a temporary headquarters was set up in trailers next to the flooded-out building.

“What really defines the character and culture of a company,” Gaelen reminds us, "is not what happens when things are good, but what happens when things go terribly wrong. Our staff rose to the challenge across the board, and I’m truly proud and grateful to have such a dedicated and perseverant team.”

There’s another lesson to be learned from the O.Berk story. Despite the skeptics and beyond the cynicism that has prevailed while our economy has struggled to rebound, one can still emerge from disaster stronger than before in America. One can turn the disaster levied in a single day, into positive change that will serve them well for decades to come.

While O.Berk personnel worked in temporary trailers for three months following the flood, they learned a lot. Working side-by-side in cramped quarters, internal communications actually improved. Changes were made in the new floor plan even as the build-out of their headquarters was underway. The physical space was rearranged to put key people in the right locations to match the natural workflow.

“Speed is one of the keys to success in our business,” says Gaelen. "We learned valuable lessons in those trailers and went with a much more open layout in our renovated headquarters to improve the flow of ideas, the exchange of information and to facilitate inter-personnel communications. We confidently expect faster response times and greater operational efficiencies as a result.”

Of course, starting from the ground up after the waters receded helped put O.Berk in an enviable position, no matter what it took to get there.

When employees began moving into their newly renovated headquarters on December 3, everything was brand new. There were new furnishings, new fixtures and new computers. There was a more welcoming conference room to encourage collaboration, a new phone system to improve internal and external communications, and new servers to store data and make documents and specifications easier to access. O.Berk even came out of its darkest hour with a new inventory system to improve warehouse operations.

“The flood provided us with an opportunity to improve our company in every area,” says Gaelen, "making us better prepared to meet the expectations of our customers as we continue to ask them ’How can we help?’ when it comes to fulfilling their packaging needs.”

According to Gaelen, "Newness is a powerful force. We took the opportunity to upgrade every aspect of our operation. When we finally moved in, it was truly a moving experience. We all shared a tremendously positive feeling of accomplishment. At that moment, everyone actually felt good about what we had gone through together.”

The key word in Gaelen’s statement is ’together’. It takes more than a ready-to-implement disaster plan, and more than good leadership to accomplish what O.Berk did. In the case of O.Berk, and every story like theirs, it takes everyone involved pulling together with all they have, with one purpose, without hesitation.

The company plans an open house in the near future to celebrate its emergence from near disaster. Clients, suppliers, industry colleagues and, of course, O.Berk personnel and family members will be invited.

According to Gaelen, “Our 101st year was certainly one of change and challenge. But it reinforced our belief that you have to just keep moving forward. And when disaster strikes, you really find out what you – and your people ¬– are made of.”



O.Berk Company, with four locations on the East Coast, provides complete packaging services to the pharmaceutical, health care, cosmetic, personal care, food and beverage, and household and commercial industries. O.Berk offers end-to-end packaging solutions with stock and custom plastic and glass containers, caps, pumps and sprayers; along with labeling and decorating services.


Jonathan Wong
Senior Media Planner

O.Berk Company
3 Milltown Court
Union, NJ 07083
Phone: 908-851-9500


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