An obituary in The Cleveland Plain Dealer caught my eye. The headline said: “Jack Kahl, 78, volunteer, created Duck Tape.” I had no idea who Kahl was, but I was certainly familiar with Duck Tape, so I read on. As I did, I found myself saying, “What an extraordinary human being!” So, I thought I’d share his story with you.
The obituary (written by Teresa Dixon Murray) said Kahl was “an inspiration to a generation of Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs, and a tireless community volunteer.” Let’s look at his entrepreneurship first. After graduating from St. Edward’s High School and John Carroll University, Kahl started working for a small tape distributor in 1963. Eight
years later he bought the company for $10,000 cash and a loan for $182,000 and renamed it Manco. In 1998 he sold the company for $116 million, giving 30% of it to his 350 employees. (He always referred to his employees as “partners.”) He retired in 2000.
Throughout his life, Kahl won numerous awards. Here are just a few of them: Industry Week’s one of America’s most admired CEO’s (1993), Cleveland Magazine’s “Best Boss in Town” (1996 and 2000), and Inc. Magazine named him one of three CEO’s “to benchmark leadership practices.”
Kahl was a creative marketer. He trademarked the name Duck Tape, choosing a yellow cartoon Duck as its logo. Within only a few years, his company had cornered 40% of the duct tape market. He also introduced scores of new products such as paints and stickers for children, Easy Liner non-adhesive drawer liners, and Draft Busters window insulation kits. But Kahl was more than a successful entrepreneur. He was known as “a mentor and cheerleader” to hundreds of businesspeople in Northeast Ohio. One prominent businessman said Kahl “could not have been nicer.” He was eager to share his business knowledge and experiences—both his successes and failures—with everyone. He also liked to share contact information, the titles of good books to read, or just “nuggets of wisdom.”
He also had a sense of humor. He promised his employees that he would jump into a nearby pond in a Speedo if the company met certain sales goals. When it did, he kept his promise even though it was October and the water was quite cold. Another time he said he would shave his head if sales reached a certain level. Once again, he kept that promise.
Kahl was a generous volunteer. He was involved with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Cleveland. He valued education and served on the boards of his two alma maters as well as being a major financial contributor to them. Kahl also served on the board of the Cleveland Clinic. As chairman of the development committee, he headed a major capital campaign that raised $240 million. Through the years, he and his wife, Margaret, hosted numerous charity benefits in their home in Avon Lake, OH. He also found time to write a book about the type of leadership he strove to practice. The book is entitled, Leading from the Heart: Choosing to be a Servant Leader. (I put it on my list of books to read.)
We might ask: where did Kahl’s exceptional generosity come from? One friend said this: “He knew what it was like to be poor, to be someone who suffered, who struggled to pay for education. He wanted to help people who were less fortunate. He never forgot his roots.” Kahl and his wife were also very proud of their five children and 14 grandchildren.
I couldn’t write about the creator of Duck Tape without saying a few words about Duct Tape.
* Duct tape was developed by a division of Johnson & Johnson during World War II to seal ammunition boxes to keep their contents dry.
* Today duct tape comes in a wide variety of colors and artistic patterns. You can even get duct tape that honors your favorite sports team.
* Duct tape has hundreds of uses: to insulate pipes, to repair carpeting, to fix small boats, to repair shoes, to make a vegan wallet, to open jars, to wrap gifts, to make emergency flip flops, to decorate a helmet, to temporarily repair a turtle shell, to treat warts, and even to fashion outfits for prom night.
* Duct tape has been stowed aboard every single NASA mission. It is even credited with saving the lives of the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13. The astronauts on Apollo 17 used duct tape to repair a damaged fender on the lunar rover.
* Duct tape “extends the usability of broken things.” Because of this, it has been called “the absolute darling of the do-it-yourself set.”
Today we give thanks for creative inventions like duct tape. But more importantly, we give thanks for creative individuals like Jack Kahl, individuals who use the gifts God gave them to serve others with great kindness, generosity, imagination, devotion, and humor.
Did anything stand out for you in this reflection?
Do you know other individuals who serve as generously as Kahl? Would you like to tell us a little about them below?
What’s your experience with duct tape? I’d love to hear a few stories.
When I think of Jack Kahl, I recall this song by Michael Card. (I’m sorry I couldn’t find a version with the printed lyrics.) The song is called “The Gentle Healer.” The more we are one with Jesus (as Kahl seemed to be), the more healing we can bring to others with our mere presence.
I invite you to share some of your thoughts below. Don’t be shy…