ATLANTA — Ira Boots, who became chairman of U.S.-based machinery manufacturer Milacron LLC last year, after building Berry Plastics Corp. into a $4 billion packaging giant, said a well-thought-out strategy and an aggressive playbook are more important than sheer size.
"It doesn't make any difference what your size is. It does make a difference what your business plan is," Boots said in a speech Oct. 8 at the Society of Plastics Engineers Blow Molding Conference in Atlanta.
Boots said it's important to understand what your company is good at, and how it could get better. He said "aggression" is the key — and a central strategy in building Berry Plastics. By aggression, he doesn't mean being nasty.
"It means you're intense. You're highly focused on where you're going," Boots said.
At the blow molding conference, Boots talked about Berry Plastics and Milacron. Both are global players.
Boots was a toolmaker when he joined Imperial Plastics in Evansville in 1978. Imperial (which later became Berry) had just $4 million in sales and 40 employees — Boots was No. 40.
Imperial had some problems, but employees worked every day as a team, and by 1989, sales grew to $50 million. The packaging maker was innovative, and employees drove costs down.
"Those are all great attributes, but the one thing we didn't have was scale," Boots said. "We knew at that point that we would be a niche molder forever."
It was gut-check time. "We had a choice. We had either to look up and say we're going to be the world's largest global packaging company, or we're going to stay as a really, really good niche player," he recalled.
The decision made history. Berry grew rapidly, often through acquisition financed by private equity.
Boots, a plain-spoken guy who still looks like he could machine a mold, knows his way around Wall Street.
When he left Berry in 2011, it employed 18,000 people and generated sales of $4.4 billion. Berry reported 20 straight years of growth in sales and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).
"When we launched our business plan, we looked at it as a very tactical approach. Everything we did, we made with aggression," he said.
Boots said Berry got help along the way from suppliers and customers, as it worked to improve operations and crack new markets.
He credited two people: Robert Schad, founder of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., and Surendra Agarwal, an Indian industrialist who is president of Creative Group of Industries in Mumbai.