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J.M. LAPEYRE 1926-1989

Pictured above are F.S. Lapeyre, J.M. Lapeyre and Emile Lapeyre in 1949 at the original shrimp plant in Houma., Louisiana.

On May 1, 1989, J.M. Lapeyre, Laitram's co-founder, died suddenly at age 62. This article will pay tribute to J.M.'s extraordinary accomplishments and also identify the primary reasons for his success. By understanding the reasons for J.M.'s success, we can best learn from his legacy.

To many, J.M. was only "the man who invented a shrimp peeling machine" This is true, but there is so much more. J.M. was a mere lad of seventeen at the time he co-invented the shrimp peeler. The significance of this invention was enormous. First, it revolutionized the shrimp processing industry along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts and created what is now the Laitram Corporation to manufacture the needed machinery. Ten years later, another J.M. invention resulted in machines for peeling the tiny shrimp found in Scandinavia. This invention literally created the processing industry now found in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, and the Northwest U.S.

At his death, J.M. had been issued 139 U.S. patents and over 100 foreign patents. J.M. was proud of the peeler, but of his early inventions, he was most proud of his Shrimp De-veiner. Challenged by some who said "it couldn't be done" in 1952, he developed an elegantly simple apparatus which silenced the skeptics.

Spurred by the need to continuously deliver about 800 pounds of shrimp per hour to the peelers and unable to convince the metal and rubber belt manufacturers to solve the problem, J.M. invented the first all-plastic, modular construction conveyor belt. Recently pronounced by a federal court as another "pioneer invention," these belts have become the standard means of conveyance in countless industrial applications worldwide. His farsightedness led to the creation of Intralox, now Laitram's largest division.

J.M.'s inventions were not limited to low-tech mechanical devices. In the mid-1960's, he conceived the first digital magnetic compass. This electronic invention led to the creation of Digicourse. In the early 70's J.M. invented a high-speed electronic computer-driven printer, now manufactured under license by some of the world's largest computer companies. Other high-tech inventions include an automatic method for processing frozen tuna fish, a novel opposed-piston diesel engine, several energy recovery devices, a unique jet engine, and a computer keyboard.

J.M. Lapeyre photo

He was an architect by training, but to many of his "fellow engineers" he was the most "complete" engineer with whom they had ever been associated. J.M.'s knowledge, acquired by continual study and observations, spanned every major technical discipline: mechanics, electronics, structures, chemistry and computers.

J.M.'s inventions have given employment to thousands of people and generally improved productivity and consequently the standard of living in the world today. For these accomplishments he deserves to be ranked among the great.

To, many, J.M. was a genius and this alone was the explanation for his success. This explanation is incomplete. It takes "genius" and "courage" to pioneer a new industry. A more complete understanding of these qualities and J.M.'s motivation is the key to understanding J.M.'s remarkable success.

What is "genius"? Thomas Edison said that "invention is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration" J.M. suffered from dyslexia yet was an extraordinarily, widely-read scholar on every technical subject. He mastered the essential principles of each technology and through mental discipline, systematically applied these principles to developing problem solutions.

When dealing in technology, J.M. was relentlessly objective, recognizing that the laws of reality, "God's laws," could not be evaded by his or anyone else's whim.

What is "courage"? J.M. was always true to his convictions. He relied exclusively on his own analysis of a problem. From the time he was a young boy, he was told he was "unrealistic" and "a dreamer." He literally spent his life fighting for the ideas in which he believed. Even after achieving success in shrimp processing and the de-veiner, J.M. risked personal and corporate bankruptcy for the creation of lntralox and Digicourse. He stood alone in accepting the criticism for ten years of losses before these divisions turned a profit. With each success, J.M. proved that it was he who was the realist.

What motivated J.M.? J.M. had a large number of very appealing personal qualities. His one most outstanding quality and the one most important in motivating his efforts was his joy in admiring greatness in his own and in other human achievements. J.M. admired the best in his fellow man. He envied no one.

J.M.'s accomplishments challenge each of us to achieve to the best of our ability. The lessons in his legacy can be learned by understanding the unique qualities which differentiated his success from others. J.M.'s "genius" was developed through hard work and objective analysis, his "courage" was the result of living by his own convictions, and his motivation was driven by his admiration for the best in himself and others.

Contrary to accepted management teachings, J.M. is "irreplaceable." He was and is the only "irreplaceable" person at Laitram.


Published for employees of The Laitram® Corporation and its subsidiaries: Intralox®, Laitram® Machinery, DigiCourse®, Lapeyre Stair® Address all communications to J. W. Evans, The Laitram® Corporation, P.O. Box 50699, New Orleans, LA 70150.

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