Welcome, AICC 2019–2020 Chairman Jay Carman
By AICC Staff
November 22, 2019
If his father had liked his sales management job a little more, Jay Carman almost certainly wouldn’t be the new AICC Chair.
Carman definitely wouldn’t be the CEO of StandFast Group LLC, a Carol Stream, Ill.-based manufacturer of corrugated packaging and things such as retail displays, retail packaging, and graphic packaging.
But as fate would have it, in 1967, John Carman, a sales manager at Georgia-Pacific—the pulp and paper conglomerate—and another sales manager, John Morrice, were growing weary of their jobs. So they hatched the idea to start their own company, StandFast Packaging, which was initially located in Morrice’s basement in Lombard, Ill., a hop, skip, and—in today’s traffic—about a 41-minute drive from downtown Chicago.
They started with a band saw worth about $50 or $100—recollections differ—and they got to work creating and designing corrugated packaging and boxes. It was a bold move and a giant leap into the unknown. Both men had young families, but they obviously felt that they had what it took to start a company. Given that StandFast is now a second-generation business, they were clearly right.
In fact, the company started growing right from the beginning. Not long after moving into Morrice’s basement, the two men moved out and into a 5,000-square-foot building with a shipping dock. From there, as Jay Carman puts it, “they moved into another place and another place.” By 1975, his father and Morrice had bought a new 25,000-square-foot facility.
As we do every year when a new Chair takes the reins, we spoke to Jay Carman about the past—how he got into the industry—and about the future, particularly what he hopes to accomplish while overseeing AICC.
BoxScore: So, why did your father leave a perfectly good job with Georgia-Pacific to start a new company?
Carman: My dad was very focused on taking care of the customer, and he was a good salesman. I remember him talking about how he would get frustrated with certain things and would sometimes go with the truck driver to make sure that a delivery got made. I don’t know if he actually drove the truck, but he was very service-oriented. Also, he got frustrated with some of the bureaucracy, which sometimes got in the way of providing the best service to the customer. That’s how I remember it.
BoxScore: Did you know from the get-go that you would be working in the family business?
Carman: No, but at the same time, in my mind, it seems like the seeds were planted for a long time. Part of it is that my dad was very passionate about the business. He was always talking about it at home; he would take us to the plant on Saturdays, and we’d cut the grass. We were exposed to it ever since he started the company. He never explicitly said, “You’re going to be in the business,” but the idea of me being in the business was always there. It was in the fabric, if you will, of our lives. It wasn’t expected, but it was always in the back of my mind.
BoxScore: And you didn’t start out working for your dad’s business?
Carman: I started working straight out of college at Evergreen Marine Corp., an ocean freight carrier. I had an inkling that I would someday work in the family business, but I didn’t expect that to happen for at least another 10 years. My goal at that time was to first get my feet planted and work for a company outside of the family business. I wanted to get as much experience as I possibly could and be successful, on my own, then join my dad at StandFast. But two years later, when things were starting to click at Evergreen, he suddenly asked me if I would consider joining him at StandFast. That took me by surprise. I made a decision to join StandFast about a year later—a lot sooner than I had expected.
BoxScore: Maybe he asked you to start working at his company because things were clicking at Evergreen.
Carman: That may be.
BoxScore: So, was it an adjustment, going from a big ocean freight carrier corporation to your father and his partner’s business?
Carman: It was. At Evergreen, I was calling on mostly large companies, Fortune 500 companies. We would make appointments, and I never really made cold calls. So it was sales-driven, but it was more of a management trainee thing. I remember my first day at StandFast, out on the road with John Morrice, my dad’s partner. He would wear a fedora, and we’d start making cold calls in an industrial area. It was a bit of a culture shock. At Evergreen, I had been in a nice office in Oak Brook, and all I could think was, “Whoa, this is quite different.” But once I got through the initial cold calling and adjusted to that, I realized that at the end of the day, sales are sales, and while it was a different approach than I was used to, your market was wider. You had a wider net to cast.
StandFast Began to Grow Fast
John Carman knew what he was doing. His company was doing well, making a very respectable $3.5 million in sales, but the company was getting close to celebrating 20 years in the business, and John and Morrice knew that they would likely retire sooner rather than later. And so Jay came to work for him in 1985, and not long after, John brought in his other three sons as well—Scott, Keith, and John Jr. Another son, Jeff, the youngest in the family, is working in New Jersey. Kristin, Jay’s younger sister, has her Ph.D. and works in Washington, D.C., at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute as the director of public and patient engagement.
In 1992, just seven years after Jay started working for the company, John allowed his four sons to buy him out. Morrice had taken the same offer a little earlier. He passed away in 2018. John is now 89 years old.
The 2000s saw a lot of growth for StandFast. For a time, it was seeing revenue growth of 25% or more a year. In 2003, StandFast started employing continuous improvement methodologies, resulting in rapid growth, and with that growth came some growing pains. By 2004, the company had 90 employees and annual sales of $18 million. Carman recalls, “We were growing fast and struggling to keep pace.”
In 2006, the company was making $25 million, and it was then that the Carman brothers implemented strong leadership training to help their next stage of growth.
Will StandFast someday be a third-generation company? You never know. Carman’s son, Jake, worked at StandFast as a training and development specialist for 3½ years and then was bitten by the “entrepreneurial bug,” starting his own consulting business. Carman’s daughter, Samantha, is a food stylist, crafting the look of burgers, chicken, and other delectable delights for Wendy’s commercials. She is happy with her career, but Carman thinks she may someday join the company. Carman’s wife, Terry, is a retired nurse.
Meanwhile, StandFast currently makes $55 million in annual sales and has 120 employees. In other words, it is doing very well, and AICC feels fortunate to have another experienced CEO at the helm.
Looking Toward the Future
BoxScore: So, how long have you been involved with AICC?
Carman: I attended my first AICC national meeting in Boston 31 years ago. At that time, my parents, who were founding members of AICC, were going to every national meeting as well as taking on active roles in the Association. As my brothers came into the business several years after me, we took turns attending the meetings with my parents. I became the Region 6 director in 2010 and continued to stay active on the executive board.
BoxScore: What do you remember of those first meetings?
Carman: My first regional meeting was very interesting because my competitors were there—who I had competed with in the local market. I thought to myself, “I’ve been quoting against this guy, and now we’re at this meeting together? How does this work?” But then you start figuring out that everyone who comes to these meetings is trying to learn and grow. I was exposed to some of the legends of our industry at the AICC meetings. It was interesting to get that experience, to see and observe some of the old guard up close.
BoxScore: What do you enjoy about being involved with AICC?
Carman: The relationships you build are really wonderful. As I became director of Region 6, I started to get to know people better and started to create many lifelong relationships, where you really get to know people on a personal level. And that helps you professionally, of course. We all have a lot in common, even if our markets are different or our companies are of different sizes. We can learn from each other. I’ve always enjoyed AICC for the personal connections you make, but I also think AICC is really good at understanding who you are and how to get you and your company the support that you need. You don’t feel alone when you’re a member of AICC.
BoxScore: What do you hope to accomplish as the 2019–2020 AICC Chair?
Carman: My theme this year is about having a growth mindset and how AICC can help your company grow. My dad, as you can see, started small, but my dad always thought big. That was a major difference between him and his partner. His partner was a great guy. He would be happy in a 20,000-square-foot facility, and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want. But because of AICC, my dad saw what was out there. That’s why he moved into a new plant, and that’s why he got a flexo folder-gluer. He saw how other companies in AICC grew their businesses by purchasing new machinery. They helped him see that “hey, there’s a big world out there, and there’s opportunity.” My dad always made the business sound attractive and exciting because he was constantly looking to grow. That’s why I came to StandFast. We continued to buy equipment over the years and kept growing the company. My brothers and I have certainly kept up that family tradition. So, I’d like to encourage my fellow AICC members who want that same path of company growth to get involved in AICC and take advantage of the many networking and resourcing opportunities that are available to them through AICC.
Geoff Williams is a journalist and writer based in Loveland, Ohio. He can be reached at boxscore@theYGSgroup.com.