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Leadership: Education, EL Program Translate to Actionable Growth

By Justin Woods, MBA

September 13, 2023

The corrugated industry is constantly evolving, and in today’s fast-paced world, it demands innovation, agility, and competent leadership. So, as a past AICC Emerging Leader (EL), I wish to share my experiences with leadership and continuous education.

Becoming part of AICC’s EL program was a watershed moment in my professional journey. The program provided a platform to network with like-minded professionals. The insights and experiences shared by industry veterans were enriching and allowed me to view the corrugated industry’s challenges through different lenses. This perspective helped formulate innovative strategies at Vail Industries.

As part of the management team at Vail Industries, I understand the critical role of effective leadership in ensuring the company stays ahead of the curve. The transition from an individual contributor to a leadership role was a crucial point in my career. One of my first initiatives was to focus on the team’s dynamics by creating an environment in which innovation thrives and individuals feel valued. The EL program, specifically the quarterly C-suite remote sessions, helped me realize that a motivated team is an asset, and the creativity of team members can lead to groundbreaking solutions for the challenges the corrugated industry faces.

One of the key takeaways for me was to learn to delegate and trust the members of my team in various functional areas to contribute. This seems pretty straightforward, but the desire to strive for perfection often meant I was taking on too many responsibilities. Through the C-suite meetings, I learned firsthand that the true decision-makers in companies build a competent staff so they can focus on the big-picture problems their organizations face. This means taking the time to mentor and train those around them in understanding the process we as individuals have developed so they can provide the value that sets the organization apart from the competition.

In my situation, this meant giving up most of the design and estimating duties that made me a successful sales professional and replacing them with prospecting and marketing efforts. This meant I needed to share the focus on design for manufacturing and line efficiency at the customer location by first walking the team through the process and learning what they needed from me in my new project requests. This would help them develop the skills in the future to provide the suggestions that matter to customers proactively in their direct communications as well as with the new projects I am bringing to the company. This effort has cut down on turnaround time and led to increased margins for the organization as cost savings are shared in a way that reduces the customer’s total expense, while improving margins for the organization beyond what is possible in the “apples-to-apples” bid process.

Understanding the importance of continuous education, I turned to AICC for resources to enhance not only my own but my team’s skill set. AICC’s educational materials, including webinars, seminars, and courses, have been invaluable. For instance, AICC’s sales training programs enhanced my understanding of how to ask the right questions at the right time and how to leverage social media platforms such as LinkedIn in a positive way, enabling me to make more effective sales calls and thus reducing the sales cycle and accelerating Vail’s growth.

Another area where my experience with AICC’s resources proved invaluab le was workforce development. With the skills and knowledge acquired through AICC, I could drive recruitment strategies focusing on developing talent with the right blend of technical know-how and creative thinking. Moreover, through training programs and workshops, we ensured that our existing workforce continually evolves and adapts to the dynamic demands of the corrugated industry.

My journey to a leadership role at Vail Industries, supplemented by the enriching experience as an AICC EL and the continuous learning through AICC’s educational resources, has been immensely fulfilling. The corrugated industry requires leaders who not only are technically sound but also possess the vision to drive innovation. Through collaboration, continuous learning, and fostering an environment that encourages creative problem-solving, we can ensure the corrugated industry continues to thrive and meet the ever-evolving global market demands.

Justin Woods, MBA, is sales manager at Vail Industries.