Zippo’s Czar

  • Originally printed in IUP Magazine, Fall 2003

    By Bruce Dries
    Photos provided by Zippo

    Ask anyone nearly anywhere in the world if they know the name Zippo, and you’re liable to get a resounding Yes. The windproof lighter’s worldwide brand recognition grew over the past seventy years through its widespread use in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, plus appearances in hundreds of movies. For the past seven and a half years, the Bradford-based company has been led by Greg Booth ’71, and he couldn’t be happier.

    “I’m working for a company as progressive as any I’ve ever worked for, with owners who are fantastic and have treated me like gold,” he said. “With a product like Zippo that’s known worldwide, it makes life a whole lot more fun, that’s for sure.”

    Booth left IUP with a degree in biology, intending to study pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh. He worked that summer at the Kendall refinery in Bradford, his hometown, and saw a job notice for a sales engineer. “I thought, you know, that sounds a whole lot more exciting than painting tanks and finishing concrete and digging ditches and all that at the refinery,” said Booth. He took a shot at it, figuring that if he didn’t like the job he would continue on to graduate school. A few decades later, Booth had worked his way up to general manager of the Kendall plant.

    Greg Booth

    When Sunoco bought Kendall, he followed the company to Philadelphia for a few years until he got a call in 1999 from one of Zippo’s subsidiaries, W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery, back in Bradford, offering him the position of president and chief operating officer. A year and a half later he was asked to become president and chairman of Zippo.

    “I was born and raised here in Bradford, as was my wife [Cherie] and three of my four kids,” said Booth. “So it has been delightful to come back to Bradford and work for the largest employer in the area.”

    Zippo’s popularity is reflected in the annual international swap meet, where collectors trade, buy, and sell Zippo lighters. In 2002, nearly six thousand people descended on Bradford, a community of 9,200. 

    In 2001, at the swap meet in Tokyo, a 1933 model sold for $18,000, and the next year the company bought one valued at $12,000 for its own collection.

    In lieu of the swap meet in 2003, Bradford played host for National Zippo Days in cooperation with Harley Davidson’s centennial anniversary. Several thousand people arrived from the surrounding states, along with 572 motorcycles, for the Motorcycle Dice Run which donated all proceeds to the Kids With Cancer Society. Booth rode his brand-new hundredth anniversary Harley Davidson Dyna Lowrider as leader of the pack.

    In September 2003, Zippo manufactured its 400 millionth lighter, and in addition to the numerous designs on the distinctive case, released a special edition in conjunction with the Rolling Stones “40 Licks” world tour.

    “Lots of people sit back and say, ‘Gee, I wish I could get a job that I really enjoy’,” said Booth. “I sit back every day and thank God that I’m blessed with the job that I’ve got, because I’ve not had more fun in my entire life, and that’s a pretty nice way to end your career.”

    Greg, his son Brett, and nephew Jon Booth

    The career path taken by Greg Booth includes not only running Zippo but also working on product promotions with FUSE, the promotion agency led by Jeremy Stephan ’93. (See Zippo Fusion for more.)