When C&IS alumnus Brad Friedman (Public Relations ‘03) graduated from The University of Alabama nearly two decades ago, he wasn’t exactly sure what his first post-graduate plans would be. He was seeking a career that would bring both fulfillment and excitement, but pinpointing an opportunity that would satisfy those criteria was harder than it seemed.
As a member of the University’s tennis team during his undergraduate career, he had multiple professional tennis opportunities looming. He also knew that working for his family’s business would always be an option as well.
After some deliberation, Friedman set out to pursue his tennis career. However, after three years of working as a head tennis professional at country clubs in Calabasas, California, and Atlanta, Georgia, he decided it was time for a change. Friedman felt a calling to return to Birmingham, Alabama, and begin working for the family business, City Paper Company, as a vice president.
Founded in 1897, City Paper Company isn’t just like every other longtime, family-owned business. It’s a company built upon decades of history, tradition and hard work.
The company was founded by Friedman’s great grandfather, who emigrated from Poland to Ellis Island, and later found his way to Birmingham in the late 1800s. When the company originated, it was focused solely on providing industrial packaging. But over the years, both the company’s offerings and leadership began to change.
After the death of his great grandfather, Friedman’s grandfather assumed ownership of the company in the 1940s and expanded its offerings to include school supply packaging and retail packaging. He diligently led and managed the company until he was 87 years old and passed the torch to Friedman’s father and uncle.
According to Friedman, the company’s resiliency can be evidenced in how much it has overcome throughout the decades. “City Paper Company has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, and most recently, a global pandemic,” Friedman said.
And, despite all of these challenges, the company continues to thrive.
Today, Friedman is the CEO and president of the company after purchasing it from his father and uncle in 2019. Under his and his wife’s leadership the company has continued to grow and offer the unique products and unmatched service his grandfather sought to provide from the very beginning.
“Over the decades, we’ve morphed as a company and we’ve followed paths where we can excel,” Friedman said.
While maintaining its tradition of offering retail packaging, the company now offers promotional marketing items such as apparel, drinkware, signage and more. It has also built an impressive client list boasting with household names such as Harley Davidson, Carnival Cruise Lines, Hallmark and Cracker Barrel.
Although the company’s recent abundance of success makes the company’s journey and evolution over the years look easy, Friedman’s family has worked hard to beat the odds every step of the way. As Friedman explains, “only two percent of family-owned businesses ever make it past the second generation.” With City Paper Company’s 125th anniversary approaching this July, it’s clear that the company has not only beaten the odds, but it has thrived while becoming a fourth-generation business.
The recipe for success isn’t always clear cut when it comes to working for a family business but, over the years, Friedman has focused on two keys to success that can be applied to almost any career path or personal endeavor: flexibility and optimism.
“Don’t be set on what you want to be doing 20 years from now,” Friedman said. Sometimes it’s the unlikely paths and an open mind that will lead you to decades of success.