Leeds company chairman who oversaw major changes to family business celebrates 60 years with firm

The chairman of a Leeds-based flexible packaging firm is this month celebrating 60 years of service with his family business, having led the company through major manufacturing changes and a move from its historic premises to a state-of-the-art factory.

John Roberts began his career in the print industry in 1961, embarking on a diploma course at Leeds College of Printing and Technology, before going on to join the family-run Roberts Mart in 1964 at the age of 20.

Founded in 1852 by William Roberts, Roberts Mart is a sixth-generation business. John has seen many changes over the past six decades, with both the business and the industry evolving massively.

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As a boy, John’s father – Peter Roberts – used to take him into work, setting the seed for both John’s future and that of the firm.

John Roberts working at Roberts Mart’s Leeds factory in 2015.John Roberts working at Roberts Mart’s Leeds factory in 2015.
John Roberts working at Roberts Mart’s Leeds factory in 2015.

John went on to work closely with his father for over 30 years, eventually taking over operational control in 1974.

“In the sixties Roberts Mart was essentially a letterpress and litho printers,” said John.

“We set type by hand, we were binders, we made paper bags – all that’s gone. Now we print flexographically reel to reel on big, huge presses that run 24 hours a day at high speed.”

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Widely recognised for modernising the firm with significant investment in both plant and equipment, in the mid 1970s John introduced the production of polythene bags with the company’s first polythene bag making machine. This was followed in 1983 by the purchase of a polythene extrusion business.

John also masterminded the moving of the Roberts Mart headquarters from its landmark site of 120 years at Bank Mills to a new state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility on the outskirts of Leeds, close to major transport routes.

In 2009, after 45 years at the helm of the firm, John handed over the day-to-day management of the company to his two sons, William and Ben, remaining a part of the business as chairman.

John said that working under his fathers tutelage had helped him to cope with the “stresses and strains” of running the business. He added that over the years, he has aimed to provide a similar mentoring role to his two sons.

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William Roberts, now managing director at Roberts Mart, said: “This is a remarkable achievement for my father. His dedication and forethought have made the company what it is today.

"Both Ben and I are proud to follow in his footsteps.”

In 2016 John Roberts was handed the British Printing Industries Federation’s Outstanding Contribution Award for his work with the Leeds-based business.

Despite challenges faced by the business throughout his time in charge, John led the company forward to become one of the most successful flexible printing and packaging companies in the UK, now placed at forefront of its sector.

Today, from its headquarters in Leeds, the family firm employs over 235 members of staff and supplies packaging solutions for brands across the UK and Europe, predominantly in the fast-moving consumer goods sectors.

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With a turnover expected to reach £50m by the end of 2024, the company’s current directors have recently invested over £11m in new machinery and an extensive facility expansion, in a move they said would allow the firm to “operate more efficiently, future-proof the business and better support its growing customer base”.

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