If my phone had a tool for tracking business jargon the same way it counts steps, I would crush every day with “labor shortage” discussions alone. Fresh in mind from the AICC Xperience in Kansas City, Missouri, the conversations were once again dominated by the challenges most in focus. We all know them too well, and none of us are immune to them in this current environment. I’m not here to complain about the day—I get enough of that from my children when the Wi-Fi is too slow, but I think we can all take a lot of comfort in knowing that one term we very rarely hear, if ever, within the corrugated community is “leadership drought.”
In 2014, AICC and its member companies were proactively preparing for the future, because there would come a time when many of the first- or second-generation owners and longtime leaders would retire, leaving a gap of generational knowledge and industry experience. To combat this anticipated “leadership drought,” AICC created a new program focused on developing young professionals who were either new to the corrugated industry or were next in line to run family-owned businesses. This group was expectantly named Emerging Leaders (ELs), as they showed long-term interest in the industry and were essentially being groomed as the next generation of its leaders. Relationship-building and mentoring would be at the forefront of this program, as that is what many in the industry would say is key to making a career in corrugated.
These ELs would take part in this multiyear development program consisting of educational trainings and networking events. Owners of independent box plants invited the group on tours of their facilities and introduced ELs to industry veterans at networking events. The program would prove to separate itself from other young professional groups by not only providing them with a cohort of peers who were at similar points in their careers, but also giving them direct access to industry leaders and mentors who willingly shared all their knowledge of business operations and packaging experience.
The timing of the formation of the AICC EL program was fortuitous in my case. In search of willing and able members, slightly seasoned associates who were just beyond the age requirement were given the opportunity to join for a two-year period. Even though I imagine it unfolded like the scene in Animal House when Otter (Steve) shows the picture of Larry Kroger (me) and someone (Virginia Humphrey) screams out, “We need the dues,” I am appreciative nonetheless. The exposure I received within those two years to the bright young minds that we have in our industry is something that I value significantly. We are fortunate to have future business leaders who are in tune with their companies, with a thirst for learning more, and that we also have current business leaders who are willing and able to give that exposure to these future leaders.
I have experience with this on both ends of that spectrum. As previously mentioned, I was once an EL who learned alongside some incredibly talented peers. Now that I’ve “emerged” and am in a leadership position, I am able to benefit from the EL program in a new way. As an employer looking for driven, high-value employees who have industry knowledge, we seek people with EL qualities and experience.
Recently, we hired two EL program graduates, Rebecca Rendon and Daniel Brettschneider, both of whom have taken newly created positions within our organization. In these roles, they have seamlessly taken ownership without a standard road map for success. This level of autonomous forward thinking is what separates good from great in the new modern workplace. As with most ELs I have had the opportunity to work around, they embrace new challenges and continue to offer great ideas to improve our operations, even outside their immediate scope of responsibility. ELs are both independent and team-oriented, looking out for what is best for the future success of their organization; their desire to improve the business goes hand in hand with the same desire to improve themselves. The quality of their work is exceeded only by the quality of these individuals, and we are a fortunate group to be surrounded such exceptional young minds.
While there is no substitute for experience in the development process, AICC has laid the groundwork, with the EL program, for helping us to identify and nurture our industry’s future business leaders. If you haven’t done so already, please take some time to speak with these talented individuals at a future AICC event. You’ll recognize in a short time why our industry has a bright future, and you should worry less about who will carry the torch forward.
Jeffrey Dietz is president of Kolbus America and a graduate of AICC’s Emerging Leaders program. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you a business leader who’s identified driven, passionate individuals within your organization who might be a good fit for the Emerging Leaders program? Send them to our website to learn more and sign up atwww.aiccbox.org/leader.