Ashley Gannon, Executive Recruiter for Plastics and Flexible Packaging recently had the opportunity to interview Steve Eglowstein, Director of Sales at IPL Plastics. Mr. Eglowstein shared helpful insights regarding the plastics packaging industry, innovation, and leadership.
Please tell us about yourself and your company, IPL Plastics.
I have had over 15 years of Plastic Packaging experience, most of which have been in the manufacturing of rigid plastic containers. I have had roles from producing in sales to leadership. Currently, my title is Director of Sales and I lead Sales Reps from the Southeast, out to the Gulf Coast and the entire West Coast throughout that division. IPL Plastics is now the third largest manufacturer of rigid plastic containers in North America. IPL is comprised of 4 business units -The bulk division which is all plastic containers from 0.5 up to 6 gallons in rounds, squares, rectangles and various shapes and styles, a retail division, which is the smaller type of plastic containers that are synonymous with yogurt and sour cream and products you see mostly in the retail sector, a material handling division which is primarily storage handling containers, and an environmental division which are roll-out trash cans.
What led you to pursue the Plastics/Packaging industry in your career?
I think what really caught my attention in the Plastics/Packaging industry was the opportunity to work within an industry that is always growing and changing. Whether it is in food, chemical, or industrial, types of packaging are always changing. There are many initiatives that have been ongoing in the OEM to retail markets. The innovation and constant change is very present in Plastics Packaging, and finding a company that was open and invested in innovation allows you to get to the right customers for the right reasons.
IPL has a culture of innovation and commitment. How do you encourage innovation on the teams you lead?
It starts with a company like IPL who provides best in class product and service. Having these key components allows your team to collaborate with customers and truly provide solutions and the ability to differentiate yourselves from the competition. We, at IPL, encourage our teams and our sales folks to constantly think outside the box. We hire creative minds who are constantly looking to provide solutions, options or variations to the way that you’re doing things. Hiring people that have that mindset and then having a best in class company, best in class product, and having a team internally that welcomes that, drives innovation and people take to it. Each opportunity in our company is worth exploring and if it makes sense we will do it. We are probably more flexible than most of our competitors, so for that reason it creates an environment in itself that promotes innovation, thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas.
What trends do you expect to see in the Plastics/Packaging industry in the next 5 years?
Source reduction is definitely a key proponent, not only from an environmental standpoint, but also reduction in costs. In addition, state of the art decoration has become more accessible to medium and small customers. IML or in mold labeling is something 10 years ago only large brand owners could afford to do. Through technology advancements, it’s not just for the companies who have a huge wallet, now some of the medium and smaller accounts can use state of the art decoration. I think you will see more and more of that. Being able to do shorter runs with decoration will be more available in the next 5 years, so driving out material, driving out costs, and using types of decoration in an economical way are trends I see. Lastly, innovation is not going to stop. Coming up with the best and newest mouse trap is an ongoing topic that has no finish line.
What traits do you believe are necessary in leadership?
The first is being able to hire the right people. One of the reasons we work with DRI is they give us the ability to hire the right people, by putting the right people in front of us. Additionally, being able to have access as a leader, keeping your ear to the ground and finding talent that can add value to the team is important. I think that once you’ve got the right people on board then it becomes leading by example. My job, in essence, is to remove obstacles and do everything in my power to help that person succeed whether in metrics, goals, and dollars; that’s my mantra. My job is to stand behind someone and help them move the pile and help them succeed in closing business, and achieving their personal and professional goals. We provide all the training and guidance but once you hire the right people and give them the right tools, leaders should be asking, ‘how can I help you?’ It’s not about who works for you, it’s more or less becoming teammates and partners and creating collaborative relationships.
Describe the approach you take to attracting and retaining high impact talent at IPL Plastics.
I think one of the assets that IPL’s culture has is having a collaborative and entrepreneurial type spirit. Some of our best in class competitors are very set in their ways. Having a leadership team that is open to new ideas, and wants to collaborate with their teammates seems very well received with the people that we talk to. It seems to be the culture people want to be around instead of the less flexible environment. There’s nobody at IPL that puts themselves above anybody else. We all consider ourselves partners, coworkers and we all work together for a common goal so people feel apart of the process and that’s how you get a better buy in.
What or who has motivated and influenced you to be successful in your career? Have you been involved in mentorship throughout your career, whether being mentored or mentoring others?
I have been very fortunate to have worked with and for people I would consider mentors. I have been given the opportunities to go through formal training and worked with good mentors who have taught me great skills in sales and leadership. These people have enabled me to pick up some great habits and great skillsets. As for mentoring others, part of my job is to mentor the people who report to me to certain degrees, helping them provide solutions and recommending how to handle different situations. Some people are just as experienced as I am, so the last thing I want to do is to tell them how to do their job. My job is to find out what can I do, how can I help, and how can I remove obstacles. For those with less experience that come across a situation they need help with, we will sit down, brainstorm, and look at our options to figure out the best way to handle it – that is one way I can provide some mentorship.
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now?
Top manufacturers need to have the ability to be flexible to meet and exceed customer expectations. There are folks that are much larger or much smaller that are very ingratiated in standard operating procedures IE, “that’s how it’s got to be done”, but business climate has changed over years. There are spikes and valleys in businesses and there are different senses of urgency and needs so the biggest challenge in the industry is being that company that not always says yes, but has the flexibility and open-mindedness to look at ways to help customers meet and exceed their expectations.
What do you think is necessary to be a successful salesperson in your industry?
There are a lot of people in our industry from the sales standpoint that are used to doing things the same way that everybody else has done it for some period of time and I don’t believe that necessarily holds true anymore. Customers in the industry have evolved. The average customer is more astute as to entertaining a new vendor coming in, listening to the questions they ask and the way they conduct themselves, and they’re saying to themselves, “Is this someone I can look at as a partner? Do they have our best interest at hand? Are they bringing new ideas to the table?” This is a different mindset than just trying to speak to customers to sell your product or service. Salespeople need to enable themselves to get in front of customers and ask them a lot of questions, find out what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, where they want help, and then providing solutions, suggestions or options. When you do that, then you become an extension with a company and you are viewed as a partner with your customer. I think that’s very important and the industry needs it.