Berry CEO looks forward to retirement

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Berry Plastics Group Rich

Not too long from now, Jon Rich sees either a fishing pole or a grocery cart in his hands.

The six-year CEO of Berry Plastics Group Inc. has laid the groundwork for his departure from the Evansville, Ind.-based plastics company, expecting to retire in February.

Waiting in the wings is newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Thomas Salmon, who will work with Rich in the months ahead as the company transitions top leadership.

For Rich, it’s the end of a full-time career, but not the end of a career — he plans to continue on as executive chairman of Berry Plastics’ board after retiring as CEO.

It’s a logical conclusion to what even Rich views as an unlikely career that is finishing up in the corner office.

“I didn’t spend my whole life trying to get to the top. And there’s still days that I’m amazed that I have this tremendous opportunity to lead a company like Berry. That’s never been part of my career objective. It’s simply been how can I do the best job for the owners and the shareholders of the company,” he said.

Rich indicated that the decision to retire and find a successor in Salmon has been a succession planning process conducted over the past couple of years.

“I’m going to be 62 years old next year. While I don’t consider that old from a living perspective, it seems like the right time to be considering retirement,” he said. “I can tell you this: I have tremendous confidence in Tom Salmon to lead this team.”

Salmon joined Berry in 2007 as part of the company’s acquisition of Covalence Specialty Materials Corp. and most recently was president of Berry’s Consumer Packaging division. He also has led the company’s Engineered Materials division. Covalence was the former Tyco plastics and adhesives business.

“This has been a well thought, thorough and continuing process at Berry, so I think Tom is absolutely the right guy to lead Berry into the future,” Rich said.

Rich does not know exactly when his last day is going to be as CEO, but it’s going to be relatively soon. The company’s board has a meeting Jan. 31, and an announcement about the official passing of the torch could happen then.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not too long after that,” Rich said.

With two young grandchildren waiting for more of Grandpa’s time, Rich already has a vision of his future. And he sees himself keeping a hand in the plastics game.

“I thought about this some. As you may know, I spent most of my career in R&D and I love innovation. And now I’m going to have more time to go to the grocery store with my wife and wander through the aisles looking packaging and see who’s driving innovation. And I want to turn those packages upside-down and see that Berry logo on the bottom,” he said.

“And if it’s not, I’m sure I can make a few calls and encourage people to continue to think about innovation,” he said. “But I’m not going away. I’ve always loved seeing the innovation in this industry.”

This prompted company spokeswoman Eva Schmitz to add her 2 cents. “I’m sure that you can imagine that all of the engineers are anxiously awaiting Jon’s phone calls with his extra time,” she said.

“Don’t laugh, I’ve been known to do that,” Rich said.

Rich lives in Indiana but also has a home in Vero Beach, Fla., where he expects to log many more hours fishing with his grandchildren.

“They love visiting Grandpa to go fishing down in Florida and they are starting to get better than I am,” he said.

“My wife has never once turned down a career move, a relocation or a job assignment, and it’s time for me to give some back,” he said.

Announcing his retirement gives Rich a chance to reflect about his time at the company.

“I’m very pleased that Berry has performed very well over the six years I’ve been CEO here. And particularly since the IPO in 2012, our stock is up over 200 percent, creating significant value for our shareholders,” he said, adding that company sales are up 55 percent and earnings have doubled during his tenure as CEO.

“I can tell you as proud as I am about the accomplishments of the company, I am also very proud that we have built an outstanding team with outstanding leadership. And my view is now is the right time to have them take Berry into the future,” Rich said.

“I’m really thrilled that this company has continued to grow and we have 26,000 employees, all of whom are working hard every day to make this company successful. Nothing makes me happier than to see their success and to see the benefits to their families and I’m sure that will continue,” he said.

“It’s a combination of it’s the right time in my life and it’s the right time for Berry,” he said.