CEOs pitch advice


New printing technology and substrates are a much needed growth and profitability “shot in the arm” for North America’s print company owners and leadership.  Deep breath. Now to the looming challenge of human capital.
Print and print supply CEOs know the scenario: despite strong product advances in printing and packaging, promising new talent isn’t beating the doors down to work for you.
Aging workforces beg the question of talent acquisition and retention.  Where will the next generation leaders and key employees come from — and will they be invested enough to help grow and secure the business over the long pull?
These were among the top-of-mind issues for five industry CEOs who assembled earlier this year in Chicago for Paper2017, the annual gathering of American Forest & Paper Association and National Paper Trade Association.
The executives:  Linda Massman, Clearwater Paper Corp.; Mark Gardner, Sappi North America; Mike Graves, Midland Paper, Packaging + Supplies; Steve Voorhees, WestRock and John Rooney, GEC Packaging Technologies.  Together, their companies generated in excess of $25 billion in revenues last year alone.
“Adapt or die.  Tough, but true.”
The print, paper and packaging industries must successfully replace aging workforces. Graves points to his company’s mentoring approach:   “We’re hiring talented people to work underneath successful sales folks nearing retirement. They work together closely for 2-4 years, and when they leave, they hand over their book of business to them.  That seems to work well.”
“For all of us, we have four generations in our workforce.  By definition that’s diversity,” added Massman. “The issue isn’t so much about the young generation, like Millennials, but rather good leadership:  how do we work together to put in this new workforce?”
One option:  introduce the bright future of manufacturing, packaging and print to the young prospective employees, showing “there’s no shortage of opportunity to show off your skills and put them to good work.”  And training needs to be continuous.  “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the amount of training we deliver.”
Depending on the topic, in-house training tends to have more “stickiness” than external training.  Well-trained and mentored employees tend to be more enthusiastic and better connected to the company, said Voorhees.
Strategic planning about the future of the business used to be taken on every 3-5 years, but today, it’s being done on a near-continuous basis.  “It’s never ending, you have to check and adjust throughout because of the speed of change today,” Massman said.
“We try to focus on how to be adaptable, nimble and able to change.  That takes a lot of energy…it requires being good at change.  The way I look at it:  it’s adapt or die. Tough, but true.”
Massman conceded the pace of technological change and data is daunting.  “Any time you want to deploy new technology, investment and implementation curves are long.  Deciding which ones to pick and choose is incredibly challenging, like reading a crystal ball.”
Attendees also heard from Max Blocker, PricewaterhouseCooper’s forest and paper sector global leader, who made the case for industry owners and executives to get serious about harnessing and exploiting their data.
“Only half of all data created today is analyzed, and the other half is put into storage.  Company leaders using rigorous data analytics were in the top quartile for financial performance in their sector, were five times more likely to make faster decisions and three times as likely to fully execute on decisions.”
In the panel wrap-up, younger industry leaders were given sage personal advice from the CEOs:  power-up and hone your critical thinking skills, be willing to work very hard, and stay open to opportunities that, at first, may not seem in line with your envisioned career path.
And, no matter how much we hear it, the fundamentals always matter:  personal integrity, earning respect, treating others with respect, accountability, and an enduring passion for excellence through the tough times and good.
Voorhees closed by invoking Chicago Cubs World Series championship architect Theo Epstein and his intense focus on personal character.  Core question:  How effectively do you respond when facing true adversity?

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