The Lawson Products Story

Company founder
Sidney L. Port

Sidney L. Port founded Lawson Products in 1952 with a simple goal—to provide for his family. He accomplished that and much, much more.

Mr. Port was a native Chicagoan and a graduate of Lane Tech High School, University of Illinois and DePaul University. After early careers as a publisher and an attorney, Mr. Port joined his father-in-law’s company, Lion Auto Parts. During his rise to executive vice president there, he recognized an opportunity and confirmed its potential by first selling fasteners out of the trunk of his car. That experience convinced him that no one else was effectively supplying businesses with small, consumable parts necessary to keeping their businesses running.


The Company’s second location on North Wilmot Ave. in Chicago 1958-1963

The Early Days

At the age of 40, with a $25,000 loan, Mr. Port opened Lawson Products in a storefront on South Indiana Avenue in May of 1952. As a former standout basketball player and boxer, his competitive nature inspired the Company’s initial success. His word was his bond, and customers and suppliers quickly recognized his integrity. That, combined with Mr. Port’s knack for finding the right people, helped continue the Company’s growth. One of the many “right” people Mr. Port hired was Bernard “Buddy” Kalish who started in warehouse maintenance in 1956 and retired in 1999 as CEO. Even today, there are several employees who started working in the warehouse and now hold managerial or executive-level positions.



Fostering an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Lawson Products went public in 1970, but Mr. Port retained a very active role until his death in 2007. When asked about founding his Company, Mr. Port often replied that he simply wanted to create an organization that offered employees a way to make a good living and support their families. As an entrepreneur himself, Mr. Port encouraged that spirit by offering employee benefits such as profit sharing, which was unusual at the time.

United Way Heart of the Community Award

Philanthropy

Mr. Port named Lawson Products after Victor Lawson, owner of the Chicago Daily News and a philanthropist whom he admired. As the Company’s success grew, so did Mr. Port’s generosity. He donated approximately $5 million to the University of Illinois Chicago, which has since named several centers after Mr. Port and his family. One is the Port Academic Center which serves as the primary study center for student athletes. Another is the Sandi Port Errant Language and Culture Learning Center. Named for his daughter, the center supports faculty and staff in creating interactive learning opportunities.

Mr. Port underwrote nearly 20 productions at the Lyric Opera and was a major donor to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, Mt. Sinai Hospital and the Gastro Intestinal Research Foundation at the University of Chicago. He also sponsored many Jewish organizations. Mr. Port also made many smaller, anonymous donations when he learned about a struggling family.

Lawson Products Today

Under the leadership of President & CEO Michael G. DeCata, Lawson Products continues to value the entrepreneurial spirit, results-driven attitude and integrity of its employees and customers alike. At the same time, the Company continues to evolve, recognizing that now more than ever, success depends on teamwork and being progressive in response to meeting customers’ needs.

When reflecting on reaching the Company’s 35-year milestone, Mr. Port said, “I don’t think of the Company as a ‘thing’—it’s the people, always. They’re it.” Employee recognition continues to be an important part of Lawson Products’ culture today with an annual sales incentive trip, the profit sharing program, a monthly “Caught in the Act” award and an annual “Excellence Award.” In addition, the quarterly event recognizing employees’ service anniversaries is named in Mr. Port’s honor, as is the Founder’s Cup, awarded annually to the highest performing Regional Sales Director.

Over the years, employees have continued Mr. Port’s philanthropic tradition by organizing fundraising campaigns in support of organizations such as the United Way and Communities that Care and others. In fact, Lawson Products was awarded the United Way’s Heart of the Community Award for Innovation in 2015 and the Spotlight Award for Engagement in 2014.

“Sid Port built this Company on the foundation of integrity, first and foremost,” said Mike DeCata. “It is an honor to be in a position to ensure his legacy continues well into the future.”

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