Journey Bound to Success

Today I finally used one of my holiday gifts.

It's a limited edition book privately published by MeadWestvaco — one among several the company has sent me over the years.

When it first arrived, I remember stashing it on my office bookshelf, thinking, “This one looks especially good!” Little did I know my newfound lunchtime companion would offer me sage advice particularly appropriate for the topic of this month's editorial.

The book is titled First Across the Continent: The Story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, by Noah Brooks. Originally published in 1901 by this 19th-century historian, the 2003 edition has a forward written by John A. Luke Jr., chairman/CEO of MeadWestvaco. It was Luke's introductory words that struck me so resoundingly as I considered addressing leadership and its impact not only within a company but among companies. His words may strike you similarly:

The story of Lewis and Clark resonates today because, at its core, it is a story about character and leadership — the overarching importance of having and pursuing a grand vision; assembling a diverse team of talented people with a strong sense of mission; leading with humility, humanity and courage; then maintaining flexibility in the face of unforeseen circumstances, allowing people to use their skills and creativity to address extraordinary challenges.

No words have ever rung truer in the face of today's daunting economic challenges. As one who has likely faced his own corporate challenges, Luke's observations crediting the success of Lewis and Clark to their strong characters and senses of leadership are apropos to the situations corporate executives face today. While they may not be scaling a mountain or struggling to remain afloat down a rampaging river, no challenge in my 26 years in the industry seems to have proven less difficult.

As challenging as it has been to lead a company through these difficult times, modest but certainly good news continues to appear on the horizon. The Freedonia Group, Cleveland, OH, an industrial market research firm, has released its $3,900 study, Converted Flexible Packaging, claiming converted flexible packaging demand in the US is forecast to expand 2.4% annually to 6.8 billion pounds by 2008, which is valued at $14 billion. Here is the key, however: This growth will be based on technological advances such as breathable films and resealable stand-up pouches, as well as manufacturers' needs for higher performance packaging with enhanced graphics capabilities. How will your company be able to capitalize on this growth? How will you take your company to a leadership position among those fewer and fewer companies able to compete for business?

To a large extent, the purchase of new mechanical technology may move your company to the next strategic level of competition. In many cases, however, reliance on existing equipment may dictate a different approach to capturing new business. In other cases, some companies may have lost the expertise of older sales and/or engineering staff to retirement, finding themselves in an intellectual knowledge vacuum. This leaves an unbalanced number of rookies who have yet to develop desirable skills and habits, says sales and leadership specialist Bill Blades, “due to their minute amount of time in the profession.”

Blades, author of Top Gun Selling, offers his checklist of recommendations to help leaders develop future stars: 1) Lead by example with top-notch #10 sales managers at the top who can develop more tens. 2) Mentor your rookies with one-on-one coaching. 3) Provide incentives by determining what triggers both younger and older employees into action. 4) Offer employee development opportunities, including internship programs to build skills. 5) Provide field training with a sales manager or a top producer. 6) Help them plan and manage their time, teaching new employees to invest major time with major clients and minor time with minor clients. 7) Encourage self-education and get them a subscription to every trade magazine that impacts your business.

And here's one of my own: In seeking new customers, don't ignore those who have proven loyal to you. Continue to give them reasons for buying your products besides price, or they'll go somewhere else to be someone's new customer.

In the spirit of Lewis and Clark as you struggle against the elements in force, don't lose sight of the vision that brought you on the journey in the first place.

For more information on the converting industry beyond this issue's contents, visit We offer content there you cannot find here, and it is updated weekly. Once there, be sure to e-mail your feedback to me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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