2003 Distinguished Service Award: Erick Laine

// Civil & Environmental Engineering

Tags: alumni, CEE E-Day, Engineers' Day, Erick Laine

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Erick J. Laine
Chairman of the Board
Alcas Corporation

Erick Laine’s journey to the executive boardroom began 70 years ago as a young child in the former Soviet Union. Laine, born to Finnish parents in Russia in 1933, moved shortly after his birth to Finland, and at the age of five journeyed with his parents to Milwaukee. He attended the city’s public schools, graduating from Milwaukee’s Washington High School in 1951, and then enrolled at UW-Madison, where he obtained a BS in civil engineering in 1955.

Laine went to work immediately after college for ALCOA, an aluminum manufacturing company. He worked his way up the ranks of the corporation serving as chief production engineer, chief industrial engineer, and operations manager at ALCOA plants in Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania. In 1977, he was promoted to president of Alcas Cutlery Corp., a subsidiary of ALCOA that manufactured household knives and other products under the brand name of CUTCO Cutlery.

In 1982, Laine, with three other executives from Alcas, arranged a leveraged buyout of the company from ALCOA. Under Laine’s stewardship, Alcas’ sales grew from $5 million in 1977 to more than $250 million in 2002. Employment has grown from 180 people to nearly 1,200. Alcas is now the largest kitchen cutlery manufacturer in the United States, and has expanded its sales overseas.

Laine was inducted into the Direct Selling Association Hall of Fame in 2002. It is the highest honor accorded to individuals involved in manufacturing and distributing goods directly to consumers. “His life has been marked by integrity, ethics, compassion, leadership and vision,” said Neil Offen, president of the Direct Selling Association.

Laine was awarded the Academy of Marketing Science Distinguished Marketer Award in 1999. He has also earned the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for manufacturing and consumer products, and is a member and chairman of the Direct Selling Education Foundation. He received the foundation’s Circle of Honor award in 1999.

He has served as a director of the Greater Olean, New York, Area Chamber of Commerce, the Olean General Hospital, the American Cutlery Manufacturers Association, and the Cattaraugus Economic Development Zone. He also served as a trustee of St. Bonaventure University in Olean and currently serves as a trustee of Alfred University in Alfred, New York.

Laine and his wife, Marianne, have four grown children and live in Olean.