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.
November 22, 2017
David Peterson, Managing Partner of Plastics and Flexible Packaging had the opportunity to interview Todd Blumsack, VP Business Unit Web Fed NA of BOBST Group North America. Mr. Blumsack covered background on his career, helpful advice for sales and marketing professionals, and insights on trends in the industry.
Please tell us about yourself.
I am a family person, and my favorite thing to do is spend time with my family. In my free time, I enjoy mechanical and electrical involved hobbies. I work on my boat’s engines and electronics, from a basic level to more advanced rebuild work. I also take the same approach with my home and car; wherever possible, I do the home maintenance myself while trying to teach my children what I learned from my father. Fishing and working out take the balance of my free time. I travel a great deal for work as well as work a great deal of hours, and working out is good for my physical and mental state.
What was your motivation to pursue a career in the printing industry?
The public school system I went to offered courses in all sorts of technical areas, and my first experience with photography and graphic arts fascinated me. All aspects of cameras, darkrooms, and printing press were interesting to me. I liked imagery/photography but had zero artistic abilities. The graphic arts field enabled me to see images come alive on the page without the need for artistic skills. My other passion was electronics and mechanics, and the ability to work with, operate, and repair the various equipment was enjoyable. I had the opportunity to go to college at R.I.T and pursue this passion. Upon graduation, I wanted to go into sales and/or marketing, but the overall market was not good at the time. I was offered a more technical position from the company I co-oped with. The position turned out to be excellent, and the company eventually offered me a sales position. From that position, I moved into marketing, sales management, and then to managing both groups.
With over 24 years of experience in marketing and sales, what would you consider to be the most important lesson learned in your career?
The most important lesson is to be open-minded and always improve my knowledge and skills in both sales and marketing. Like all else in life, sales and marketing evolve. The methods to accomplish both change and improve, and if you are not learning, you are going backwards. I believe in Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – Habit 7. We all need to stop and sharpen the saw to do our jobs effectively. When we are in a profession and we are not looking to grow and improve, we are not doing ourselves and those we work with justice.
BOBST uses the phrase, “People – Knowledge and Values” to describe itself. As VP, Business Unit Web-Fed, what do you do to make sure you are exemplifying these 3 facets in your leadership style?
“People – Knowledge and Values” are important to the Bobst culture along with Trust, Respect, Passion and Performance. Everyone at Bobst does their best to live by this. I try to be there in every way for those I work with. I trust they are working hard, doing their best and then ask each one “What can I do to help you succeed?” or “How can I work on internal issues to enable you to do your job better?”. Success is a team effort, and being part of a team means WE succeed as a team. If WE have issues, WE work through the issues as a team. “I” is not a positive way to work with others. We all need to give credit to the team and not take credit for the team’s work.
What new and innovative projects are you currently working on?
Bobst Web Fed is working on promoting automation in the conventional, non-digital printing, area. We are incorporating HD Cameras and RFID technology to enable customers to setup and operate various types of conventional printing equipment easier and faster.
What trends do you expect to see in printing in the next 5 years?
Trends are both in the digital printing area and automation area. We will see more robotics and digital printing as part of the various printing solutions. I believe conventional printing will remain in the printing/packaging world, but digital will become stronger in the areas that need shorter runs or personalization. SKU proliferation will continue, as people want products more aligned with their individual needs. This will drive how printing/packaging evolves.
What is the biggest challenge you are seeing in your industry or the manufacturing industry in general?
Our industry is very manufacturing oriented. A big challenge is talent for both packaging manufacturers and suppliers to the packaging manufacturers. We need skilled talent to operate the equipment. The equipment is evolving with technology and the talent to train, install and repair the equipment is in demand. Getting the word out that the packaging industry is high tech and offers a great career needs to be spread.
What advice would you give to professionals looking to break into a successful career in sales and marketing?
Chose an industry that truly interests you. In sales and marketing, you are dealing with people and you need to relate to and understand the people and the market. If you do not posses and show real interest and passion, you will not succeed. Secondly, work very hard. I deal with individuals with varying education and experience, and what sets successful people apart from the rest is hard work.
What traits do you think define leadership?
I believe leadership should be earned, not given. As a leader, you need to show the people you work with trust, respect, passion, morals and care about those you work with. In addition, you should not expect anyone to do something you are not willing to do yourself. One final key is to admit when you are wrong or made a mistake. Nobody is perfect; I have and continue to make mistakes. I just try to learn from my mistakes.
Describe the approach you take to attracting and retaining high impact talent at BOBST.
Attracting and retaining talent is key to success. A company is nothing without the talent. Understand what the person you are trying to attract is motivated by and try and put some of those elements into the position. Some people like to travel and some do not, altered work hours, compensation elements outside of salary, and just the need to be part of a new team are some of the areas that can drive talent to your company. Finally, be honest and let the prospective employee know both the good and the not so good.
What or who has motivated and influenced you to be successful in your career? Have you had mentors?
Many people have influenced me in my career, some good and some not so good. First, would be my parents. They instilled hard work, education, and the ability to finish a day and be happy when you look in the mirror. Early on in my career, like many others, my confidence got in my way. I was put in my place early in my career, and shown the correct way to handle myself in a business environment. In the middle of my career a peer who became my mentor/manager/friend showed me how to present and build industry relationships. Lastly, a manager who became a friend, then peer gave me my first management position, helped me grow in my career and acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses’ so I could continue to improve and grow. A great mentor has the ability to tell you your strengths and weakness, and point you in a direction to improve.
Managing Partner of Plastics and Flexible Packaging
April 11, 2017
By David Peterson, Managing Partner and Director of Plastics and Flexible Packaging
At the end of March, I had the great opportunity to attend and speak at the Plastics News Executive Forum at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, Naples, Florida. As it was my first time attending, I want to note that Plastics News did a great job coordinating this conference, which offered strategies, presentations, and networking opportunities for leaders of top plastics processing companies.
Aside from the sunshine and beautiful scenery, the Plastics News Executive Forum impressed me from the speakers, to the great conversations about the industry. The theme of the conference this year was “Engage. Inspire. Lead.” and the agenda stayed consistent with that, buzzing with conversation regarding the Plastics workforce, retention, and talent in the industry. For example, Laurie Harbour, President/CEO of Harbour Results Inc., shed a light on the top challenges for Plastics Processors in 2017, sharing that 92% say their top challenge is recruiting, training and retaining employees. Part of the reason for this could be the decrease of Plastics Engineer professionals. This is something that was discussed often throughout the conference, along with the ways companies can contribute to solving that issue. For example, the Best Places to Work Panel gave great ideas for retention, with one being a “bring your parents to work day.”
For me, the conference was especially exciting as I had the honor of presenting! My topic was “How to Attract and Retain a New Generation of Workers” and primarily focused on Millennials and what we can do as companies to bring them into the Plastics Industry and keep them there. Again, this fell in line with most of the buzz at the conference. It was a great experience to speak at this event! Plastics News wrote an article highlighting my presentation here: Solving the Millennial Riddle
The Plastics News Executive Forum was a great event and a great experience this year. I’m looking forward to next year’s event! If you were at the event, what did you enjoy the most?
Managing Partner and Director of Plastics & Flexible Packaging