Trending Content

Leading Through Uncertainty

By Jana Harris

July 7, 2023

I am thrilled to share with you that we had 800 members and guests in attendance at the just-concluded AICC Spring Meeting in Miami. This was an outstanding showing. The other reason this meeting was such a thrill for me was that my dad, Joe Harris, was in attendance.

The big question on everyone’s mind as we met was, “Where are we as an industry?” Are we in a recession? Or not? Consider the following.

Domestic production of consumer nondurable goods remained strong in March, rising by 1.4% during the month, as reported in Dick Storat’s Scoring Boxes (see p. 4). But wait! Retail sales slumped 1% in March, and general merchandise stores like Target and Walmart saw their sales decline 3%! But then again, nonstore retail sales rose 1.9%!

Anna Wong of Bloomberg Economics told us in Miami that the manufacturing recession was underway at the end of 2022 due to excess inventories at retail. Consumers were buying less stuff. But she also said consumers still have spending power.

After Wong spoke, our boxmaker panel confirmed the slowdown: Howard Bertram—flat; Brett Kirkpatrick—off 10% for the first two months of the year; Joe Palmeri—not convinced we’ve bottomed out.

In a survey released earlier this year by AICC, a majority of members predicted their business to be down by an average of 4% in 2023 and said their biggest concern was a “slowing economy.”

Yet, in the same survey, 80% of members said they have business or equipment acquisition plans in 2023.

Without a doubt, business has slowed. We’re coming off a time during which our industry’s capacity nearly reached a breaking point. So, considering all this information—much of it conflicting—how are we to react as business owners in the corrugated and paperboard packaging industries? How do we guide our companies through this period?

First, we arm ourselves with intelligence by coming to meetings and hearing from our peers about what’s going on in their businesses. Second, we focus on our business operations, learning best practices from others and applying them in our own shops. Third, we look to the future. If we’re in a recession, look post-recession. This reminds me of what Roger Poteet told me in 2008–2009. Poteet said his company, then Poteet Printing Systems, “simply refuses to participate in this recession.” He invested for the growth following. We are well advised to do the same. Finally, we should use this time to reeducate our employees and focus on their training. Who had time to do any of that in the past two years?

And here is where your Association comes in. In all of these steps, AICC provides us with the venues, tools, programs, and intelligence to lead our companies in uncertain times.

At AICC meetings, we gather, we talk, and we learn. In our CEO groups, leadership forums, and independent networks, we learn best practices and have the accountability to apply them. Through our valued suppliers, we have access to the best technologies, materials, and services to increase our efficiency and productivity to best serve our customers.

And finally, through AICC’s industry education material, our employees are trained and ready for the job at hand—and the job ahead.

So, recession? Or not? I’m going for “not.” We are a positive bunch, we AICC members.

Jana Harris
CEO and Co-owner, Harris Packaging and American Carton Co.
AICC Chairwoman