Like most people who navigate through the career portion of their life, I've been influenced by some amazing people. People leave their impression upon me through their character, charisma, intelligence - yet the ones who I think about the most in my day-to-day effort are the ones who stick to an idea they believe is right. Convention be damned.
Our world is built on systems and systems become obsolete as conditions change. As we all know, things are constantly changing in society, technology, laws, and business. Recently I saw a vintage Radio Shack ad that featured about 20 tech items. The irony is all those gadgets are now features of the single gadget in my pocket. Progress is only achieved through deviation from the norm - as eloquently stated by one Frank Zappa. Yet, optimization of existing systems garner most people's attention and effort.
I'll describe two particular individuals I admire since I can't fit them all in under 1000 words - we want you to read the column after all.
The first person is someone I began working with a couple decades ago at International Paper. We were constantly sharing thought-leadership articles, books to read, information sources, and icons who bucked trends/conventions. We found joy through our travels together playing what-if scenarios over and over. As we experimented with ideas and initiatives over the ensuing years, there was never a shortage of obstacles to overcome. I tended to move on to different challenges in the face of nay-sayers or Luddites, while the "unreasonable man" stuck with it. He camped out at a warehouse operation for months in the back woods of Virginia making a novel, pack-on-demand operation work. A few years on, he entrenched himself at a pharma customer in Michigan combing through data and procedures looking for, and implementing, a new JIT model for packaging materials. Another few years on, he used the resources of the world's largest supply chain company along with their logistics customer base to build a robust adjacent division in packaging services. Next, he floated a thesis on packaging fulfillment based on near-term demand signals to dozens of PE firms, all but one denying funding. He camped out at the first acquisition for months, even years, to paint a bigger picture in their minds about what is possible, what the FMCG market needs, where to invest cash. He is now the CEO of a 6000 person, global company. The challenges and setbacks will surely continue, especially in today's complex, brittle market environment. However, I have no doubt he will continue on and should be proud of what he has impacted. Inspirational, truly.
The next individual can only be best described as a lightening rod. The type of person who would play the "why" game with prospects, and then proclaim their responses to be stupid or illogical. Think of a Spok-like person. No tact at all. How is that inspiring? Ticking people off constantly? Confronting their normalcy bias. When people defaulted to ego and told this person to go pound sand, he would not stay around to fight or argue. They would never know their loss in opportunity costs. He moved on to the next project or prospect. However, when he was given a little rope to hang himself, man o man, it was magical. He could save clients millions, tens of millions, and a few cases I can think of, hundreds of millions over time. He ultimately created a packaging spec database company that combed through, filtered, and analyzed adjacencies in pack size and materials for thousands of finished goods sold in the quantity of millions that profoundly changed how products were sourced, packaged, warehoused, and transported to consumers. Yet people/companies would literally ban him from premises because he did not cow-tow to wanting to be liked. I admired the confidence, truly.
There are many other mentors I could go on about. They built my own character and outlook. You reading this column could easily describe your own influences and mentors. Now I want to ask you...what are you doing for those whom YOU influence? Are you investing in others? Are you allowing them to stand on your shoulders? Get some spotlight? That's how a society grows great. Men (or women) who plant trees whose shade they will never sit under. I heard that somewhere. So true.
It takes grit to keep moving forward for those looking to impact change and innovate. True grit. I find these opportunities in solution selling, but you can find it in whatever field or role you find yourself in. That is, if you're even buying into what I'm saying. I'm not suggesting that doing your job by knocking out the tasks and responsibilities in front of you for a wage is not noble and satisfying to get the life you want. I'm saying there are entrepreneurs who think differently and get their satisfaction from affecting change that is not always self-evident or merely incremental.
Steve Sena (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Cincinnati native. He obtained degrees in Paper Science & Engineering from Miami University in Oxford, OH and an MBA concentrating in Economics from Xavier University. He's worked for a broad array of leading producers, suppliers, and converters of pulp and paper grades.