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Professional Development: Emerged and Educated

By Paul Wagner

January 23, 2024

My journey with AICC and the Emerging Leaders (EL) program began about five years ago. I joined as an introverted, inexperienced 30-year-old who knew very little about the corrugated industry outside of my little bubble in Kansas. I quickly fell into my comfort zone at my first AICC event and stuck mostly to myself. It wasn’t until later at a networking event that I slowly opened up. One of the newly elected EL delegates took me under his wing and started to introduce me to everyone and strike up conversations. It was all uphill from there.

I began to make contacts that eventually became acquaintances and grew into friendships over the years. Everyone in the EL group has a very diverse background, leading to multiple perspectives on situations. Everyone from general managers and production supervision to machine salesmen and customer service representatives are included in the group. Being able to bounce ideas off other industry professionals who may or may not have previous experience with a certain situation always proved to be beneficial. You never know the problems you can solve just by asking the question.

After becoming more comfortable within the group, I decided to become more involved by joining the inaugural EL Committee. The EL Committee consists of EL delegates and about four to five ELs themselves. The committee helped me better understand all of the work that takes place behind the scenes that is required for all these events to successfully take place.

Eventually, I was asked if I would do an introduction for a guest speaker at the AICC Spring Meeting in 2020. Of course, public speaking scares the heck out of me, so the thought of speaking in front of hundreds of people sounded like the worst idea ever. I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. I felt that this would be a huge step in my personal growth of trying to conquer my fears. It couldn’t be that bad, since it would just be a short introduction, right? I found myself growing more and more anxious as the meeting got closer and closer. Then, at the last second, I was saved by the bell. The Spring Meeting got canceled. Maybe one of these days I will get another opportunity to conquer my fear of public speaking.

Even networking outside of the EL group at AICC events is greatly beneficial, whether it is with a seasoned veteran of the industry, equipment vendors, or even CEOs of other companies. In what other industry are you allowed to walk up to a CEO and strike up a conversation and them not be completely appalled by your presence? They have most likely seen the same exact issues over the years and already know the answer.

As I am sure many of you already know, the plant tours during AICC events are always one of the top highlights. Over the years, I have been in countless corrugated plants throughout the country, and I can honestly say I have learned something valuable from each and every one of them.

I recently “graduated” from the EL program, which is AICC’s nice way of saying that I have gotten too old! Now I am stuck in the middle of being too old for the young up-and-comers and not experienced enough to be with the true industry veterans. That noted, I would like to end by thanking everyone at AICC, the EL group, and Lawrence Paper Co. for giving me the opportunity to develop personal growth within the paper industry.

For those of you considering joining the EL program, take the leap! For me, these experiences over the past five years have truly been priceless, and I look forward to what the future holds.

Paul Wagner is plant superintendent atLawrence Paper Co. He can be reached at