The Fundamentals of Being a True Leader

Have you noticed how much the phrase “We must reinvent ourselves” has been tossed about lately? Following closely on the heals of this remark everywhere I turn — be it in or outside of the converting industry — the thought concludes with some variation of former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacoca's famous quote: So you'd better “lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

What makes a company a leader in its field? Technology and its adaptation certainly play a significant role. There's no doubt about it, especially in these difficult times, a company that's been an early adapter to new technology may experience some pain, but it's also among the first to experience advantages. New technology is what allows a former niche-based business, traditionally the hallmark of the converting industry, to expand into new markets.

Not that long ago, a wide web printer focused on long run jobs with webs 36-in. and above with little variation. Now, with mid-web, servo-driven presses, wide-web converters have greater flexibility to handle shorter run jobs with shorter setups and faster turnarounds at smaller widths. This same wide-web converter might also have a narrow web press off to the side to handle specialty jobs for even shorter jobs with time-sensitive deadlines.

On the same token, niche-oriented narrow web printers now are able to handle not only labels but they're also expanding into flexible packaging and folding carton applications. Let's face it, today's combo flexo press isn't anything like your father's in-line model. It can also print screen, letterpress, offset, gravure, offset digital, and ink jet digital in a surprising number of combinations.

Simply buying new technology, though, doesn't make a company an instant leader of the pack. This job falls to yet another leader: oftentimes the president of a company who is responsible for separating his/her company from all the “wannabe” leaders in the field. But what makes the head of a company easy and profitable to follow? I think it's because a successful company head not only has a visionary approach to business but also he/she has a decisive ability to implement technology-oriented change. And there's one more thing — this person has charisma.

One such person who became known as an industry leader and to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude as one of many mentors is Grover Foote, who passed away from cancer on Sept. 21. Grover and I met back in 1990 when he was president of Sunrise Packaging and I was doing a story on one of his new presses — one of among a relatively few worldwide that handled water-based inks. My headline on the story hailed the dawning of a new water-based era. Grover followed this investment with a switch to water-based laminating.

This was a time in the industry that signaled change for the converting industry…which may have put Grover on the “bleeding edge” of technology, but he was determined to succeed, having total faith in Sunrise employees to achieve their goals. Grover won Wisconsin's Governor's Award for waste reduction for his company's efforts, but his accolades didn't stop there. He also received the DuPont Innovation Award and was a strong proponent of Dom Perino's in-line printing and laminating designs, which his company extensively modified. Grover developed printed, shrinkable lidding films for modified atmosphere packaging applications, and most recently he began a successful development — under the name of his newest venture, Packaging Partners — for extended shelf-life produce packaging that will have applications in many other industries.

Grover, says his son Mark Foote who will continue his work at Packaging Partners, couldn't stand to let anyone down. I know this is true because he never failed to call me about new developments as one of PFFC's technical advisors. He loved his work and the people he met, never letting his five-year battle with cancer get in the way. Grover was one of a rare breed — a charismatic leader with heart, smarts, and determination. We will miss him.

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