Over the years, Greg Botner has earned a reputation.
After multiple turns working with companies in financial distress, his “fix-it guy” cred is what brought him to Wilbert Plastic Services, an injection molder and thermoformer in Belmont, N.C.
Botner, 59, took over running the business in 2008. Wilbert at the time was underperforming, and he'd been brought in by the board of directors to evaluate whether it was worth fixing.
But Botner saw the company “had good bones,” he said: the customer base was sound, the facilities and equipment were in good shape. In these situations, he has a first step: “I look for people, ‘cause I need help.”
Wilbert had those, too.
“There were some good people down in the organization, so it had the elements to be able to turn it around, and that's what attracted me to the situation,” Botner said.
So he got to work restructuring, cutting costs and waste and rebuilding credibility with customers. They got the business back on the right track just in time for the economy to tank in 2009, bringing an unexpected second wave of challenges.
“It was not only discouraging, it was a little strange… it was like nobody came back from Christmas vacation that year; our customers weren't ordering parts and the like,” Botner said. “We got through it. And fortunately for us, immediately following the recession we were in pretty good shape, we had gotten ourselves in pretty good shape financially, and we were ready to take off when the economy was taking off.”
Botner came to the plastics business after dropping out of college. He happened to pick up a job with a small plastics company in Michigan, manually loading buckets of material into hoppers of the machines, and found he liked the industry.
“I kind of fell in love with I guess all of the technicalities of the business, and you know kind of worked my way up through the years,” Botner said.
He earned a plastics technology certification at Oakland University and worked his way through different facets of the business, from engineering to sales. At age 35 he became the chief operating officer of a family-owned company called Continental Plastics, and was introduced to his first turnaround opportunity.
“Somewhere along the line, when I was at Continental Plastics, we had done an acquisition that was kind of in trouble and then the parent company — they weren't financially distressed, but they were in desperate need of some sales; there was a lot of business exiting,” Botner said. “So I kind of got tagged with being able to do well in these difficult or turnaround circumstances.”
From Continental Plastics Botner was recruited to a series of other distressed situations, eventually signing on to Wilbert's board of directors in 2007 and the next year taking on the CEO role.
Wilbert is now the 37th-largest injection molder in North America and ranks 21st among thermoformers, according to Plastics News data. The company has two thermoforming and five injection molding locations and supplies a variety of end markets including automotive, aerospace, health-care equipment and consumer products. Originally headquartered in the Chicago area, Wilbert relocated to Belmont, N.C., in January 2010. Botner also packed up his homes in Chicago and Michigan and made the trip south with his family. He likes the weather a little better in the new locale.
“You get all four seasons, but not much of the worst one,” he said.
Botner is married with four kids — two daughters, 11 and 19; and two sons, 21 and 27. He plays golf with his sons and enjoys hunting and fishing, but relishes the challenge of his work.
“I enjoy working. It's always been my passion,” he said. “… Later in the last 10 years or so of my career, and hopefully for the next 10, you know it's more about developing people. I love developing the business, I really enjoy taking a business that wasn't doing well and helping to make it do well, and seeing the people in that business enjoy that success.”