Family, friends remember founder of Hardigg Industries

  • James “Jim” Hardigg, founder, president and CEO of the former Hardigg Industries, died last week, months shy of his 98th birthday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Alice and James “Jim” Hardigg. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 8:42:42 AM

CONWAY — For James “Jim” Hardigg — founder, president and CEO of the former Hardigg Industries — it wasn’t often that his ideas came to him while sitting at his office desk.

“What was really fun as a child — and afterward — was sometimes seeing when his ideas came to him,” said his daughter, Viva Hardigg. “Sometimes, he would be at the family dinner table and he’d suddenly have this idea. He’d pick up a paper and a pen to put down this note and come back to later.”

She said it’s one of the qualities she loved about her father, who died last week — months shy of his 98th birthday.

“What I loved was that he was brimming over with ideas, and he had an inventive mind,” she said.

Viva recalled one of those ideas — a latch for a storm case, one his products at Hardigg Industries. The latch was strong, but it “moved like butter,” she explained.

“He had an idea for it when he was in one of these situations,” she said.

By the time Pelican Products bought Hardigg Industries in 2008, more than 50 years after the company was founded, Hardigg Industries had become one of the largest shipping case companies in the world, according to Jim’s obituary. The site remains at 147 North Main St. in South Deerfield.

Growing up in Conway, Viva remembers her father taking her and her six siblings into work on the weekend.

“He worked on Saturdays, but didn’t want to miss time with his family,” she said. “It was really exciting to go to the company with him. He wanted us to be part of his weekend even though he had to work.”

As an employer, Viva said her father valued his staff and “loved getting to know them and their families.”

Rapport with employees

Robin Cox, an associate of Hardigg Industries for 12 years — a portion of that time under the ownership of Pelican Products — said Jim and his late wife, Alice Hardigg, took the time to get to know everybody who worked for them.

“He had 500 people,” Cox said. “And he knew them all on the floor by name.”

She said he engaged with everyone in the company, seeking their ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

“He was a great teacher,” Cox said. “He motivated and inspired people. He wanted people to grow.”

Stephen Smiaroski, who worked for Hardigg Industries for 24 years, said he felt as though Jim took him under the wing. Smiaroski began in package engineering, he said, and eventually made his way into sales.

“I was always encouraged to grow within the company, and did so,” he said.

Smiaroski recalled the way Jim walked throughout the building, stopping to talk with just about everybody.

“It would be in interest, of course, in what they were working on,” he said. “But he would also ask about their personal life. For me, personally, I have two daughters. He knew them by name and he would always ask what they were up to.”

Where engineering was concerned, Jim was a “walking calculator,” Smiaroski said. He could have an equation solved before another person had time to plug it into his calculator.

Jim’s son, Jamie Hardigg, who worked in the company on the marketing and finance side, and later in administration, said there were very few concepts within the company his father didn’t have an understanding of.

But it was the technology side of the things — creating, in particular — that he enjoyed most.

“If he was sitting at his desk, with a pencil in his hand, he never tired,” he said.

Jamie said it was a tremendous advantage to the company to have a founder who “cared about everybody’s welfare.”

“It was having that sense of trust that was wonderful,” he said.

‘Best quality advice’

But it wasn’t just his work at Hardigg Industries that left an impact on others, according to longtime friend of the family, Howard Boyden, owner of Boyden Brothers Maple in Conway.

“Jim wasn’t what I would call a townie … but we served together on some committees,” said Boyden, a lifelong resident of Conway. “That’s how I really got to know Jim and really, really respect him. He was one of a kind.”

They served together on the Finance Committee about 25 years ago, he said. Jim knew how to give everyone “due consideration” before offering his own response.

“I find myself channeling Jim often. … I try to give people a good listen before I tell them what I think,” Boyden said. “And when I do, I try to keep it as polite as possible.”

Although he wasn’t a “townie,” Boyden said, what Jim did bring to the table in the occasional committee he served on was the “best quality advice.”

“When Jim Hardigg got up to speak, you knew it was going to be reasonable or well thought out,” he said. “I am really going to miss Jim Hardigg.”

Viva said her father cared about Conway — and that’s why the family is asking donations in his memory be made to Field Memorial Library.

“A huge part of my father’s life was reading,” she said. “One thing that’s remarkable is he had a very lucid and clear mind up until just a day or two before he died, and he was reading.”

Viva said he loved reading autobiographies and was interested in learning about American history.

“He read, and he read, and he read,” she said.

Donations to Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, N.H., are also encouraged.

“He also adored animals, in particular bears,” Viva said, adding his love for nature and the environment in general. “Protecting the environment was very, very important.”

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