Willie Artis founded Genesee Packaging in 1979 in Flint — a key part of his journey from poverty to trailblazing entrepreneur. Courtesy photo
FLINT, Michigan—A new biography about local businessman and philanthropist, Willie Artis, sheds light on his incredible journey from poverty to a multimillionaire (and everything in between).
“From Jim Crow to CEO: The Willie E. Artis Story,” is the result of a collaboration between Artis and Flint author David Stanley. Artis first began writing his story at the urging of his wife, Veronica, whom Artis credits for his success. Artis and Stanley met twice a month for two years to capture Artis' stories and publish the book. The two would meet at their regular table at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, where Artis in the early 1990s became the first Black member, and they would talk for hours.
Stanley describes Artis as one of the kindest, sharpest, funniest men he’s ever known. And, Artis’ story is one Stanley felt compelled to help produce.
“He was born in the Jim Crow South — legalized racism. He made it big here in Flint. … We have to get these stories on paper. We can't forget what those days were like,” Stanley said.
After working a number of odd jobs, Artis' drive for a better life led him north to Chicago, where he was introduced to industrial packaging. His mastery of this field opened the door to decades of success, the opportunity to build his own business and a multimillion-dollar empire.
“He's well aware that he's passing the torch,” explains Stanley.
In the book’s introduction, Artis says: “I write this book to encourage other young people of color — whether poor or lacking an education — that if you are willing to work, to learn, to surround yourself with truly able people and soak up their wisdom, you can overcome all the hurdles racism throws at you.”
Artis founded Genesee Packaging in 1979. Located on Dort Highway, it became a leader in automotive and corrugated packaging.
The public is invited to meet Artis at a book signing celebration 3-5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Mott Community College’s Culinary Arts Institute in downtown Flint. Books will be available for sale and snacks prepared by culinary arts students will be available.