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Customer Spotlight

A Family Legacy

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Envelope machine at Leader Paper Products

Leader Paper Products is not just a small, family-owned business, it’s a legacy. Originally started in the 1880s, the business was incorporated in 1901, around the time the Wilke family became integral to operations. Since then, there has been some moving around and growing, but the business has remained in the Wilke family. In 1999 and 2000, when the business needed to expand its facility, MEDC helped make it possible financially. And now, also with some help from MEDC, David Wilke and his wife, Elizabeth, are carrying on the fourth generation’s legacy as they take over the business from David’s three older brothers. 


David started with the family business in high school and has now been a part of Leader Paper Products for over 40 years. Though his brothers were ready for retirement, he was not and wanted to carry the business to the next generation. “We’ve prevailed as a business because it’s been filtered down to one owner,” he said. 

“Our workplace feels like family even though we are not all blood relatives. That’s how we choose to create our culture."

David says it is the feeling of family – from blood relatives to all those who work at Leader Paper Products to the paper industry in general – that makes him happy to go to work and continue the business. “Our workplace feels like family even though we are not all blood relatives. That’s how we choose to create our culture. Most companies don’t make that a priority. I come to work and I don’t feel like I’m going to work, just another home,” he says. He also notes that the industry itself – suppliers, customers and even competitors – is a big family and that most of Leader Paper Product’s customers are also family-owned businesses. 


Another way Leader Paper Products has prevailed as a business, even in an electronic age that uses less and less paper, is by focusing on higher-end envelopes that are used in greeting cards, invitations, and legal and professional correspondence. Important events and personal correspondence still call for beautiful paper, David says. There are some instances where an email will not do. Leader Paper Products produces over a billion envelopes a year, which is just one-tenth of one percent of envelopes that go through the post office in a year. Their location in Milwaukee helps sustain the business too; the majority of their paper is manufactured in Wisconsin, leading to affordable freight expense and support of the long history of paper making in Wisconsin. 


While Leader Paper Products has a strong history, David has an eye on the future too. “I want to look beyond envelopes. There is more to do with paper. I want to explore other options to make sure we have something to keep us fluid in the future,” he said. David’s brothers are still around to offer guidance when questions arise, but other family members are playing an important role in the future of Leader Paper Products as well. The fifth generation, David’s two sons and a niece, are already working with the team to help make Leader Paper Products a success.

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Elizabeth and David Wilke

Leader Paper Products main facility is located at 901 S 5th Street in Milwaukee. Learn more about their products and services.

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