Ed Holland's wife, Ann Dee, is convinced he's the right man to serve as CEO of the family's resin distribution business.
“She told me if I ever went to work for another company, don't bother to bring my lunch on the first day, because I wouldn't last that long,” Holland said.
All kidding aside — or maybe she's not kidding at all — Ed has served as CEO of Northbrook, Ill.-based M. Holland Co. since 1994. The firm ranks as one of North America's largest resin distributors, handling resins and compounds from more than 20 suppliers. M. Holland has around 3,000 customers and supplies more than 1 billion pounds of resin annually.
Ed took over as CEO after his father — company founder Marvin Holland — passed away. He describes his father as “a great mentor to me as I grew at M. Holland and M. Holland grew with me.
“My dad not only allowed change, but encouraged change, even when he did not completely understand it,” Ed explained. “He allowed me — or anyone else for that matter — to make mistakes. All he wanted was for us to learn from those mistakes. It's more important to be comfortable to make decisions than to always wait for someone else to do so. He truly led by example.”
Although the company never articulated the term “core values,” Ed Holland said that his father Marvin “lived by them every day.” That's continued within the company to the present day.
“We as a company have institutionalized our core values, and discuss them at every opportunity,” he added. “Then we live them every day. Our people articulate them to each other internally and externally. This is our foundation of our culture.”
But Ed's career at the family firm definitely didn't start at the executive level.
“My first job in plastics was working in our warehouse, unloading box cars of resin by hand in 50-pound bags, putting them on skids — 50 per skid — and getting them put away in the warehouse,” he recalled. “We also unloaded truckloads of 300-pound drums of materials by hand, loaded trucks, repacked material from gaylords to bags — a lot of manual labor.”
“I also ran our warehouse when our manager was on vacation. My first commercial job was as a sales representative in the Chicago and St. Louis markets.”
Even after becoming CEO, it wasn't easy at first for Ed to get used to the role and the responsibility that came with it. “It took a while for the actual title of CEO to feel like it was mine and not my father's,” he said. “I kind of felt like a seat-filler at the Oscars.
“My first goal was to make sure the stakeholders of our company — employees, suppliers and customers, banks and other vendors of services — were comfortable with the loss of Marvin Holland. Then I wanted to execute a long-term plan on growth and development of our people. Part of that plan was to develop a succession team behind me so the company was not dependent solely on Ed Holland.
“I believe we have the best people in the industry. If I got hit by the bus, M. Holland would not only survive, but it would thrive — but let's not test out that theory.”
Establishing and maintaining company culture is a large part of the job. “My job as CEO is to be the protector of our company culture, develop and execute a long term strategy and to make M. Holland the place where the best-in-class people want to work,” he explained. “If we do these things well, being successful becomes much more feasible.”
Ed Holland, age 61, added that being a privately held business “allows [M. Holland] to make good long-term decisions.” Other companies “who have to report to Wall Street, watch stock prices or create a short-term return on investment for [venture capital] owners have different motivations and timelines that don't necessarily benefit their customers, suppliers or employees.”
M. Holland marked its 65th year in business in 2015. The business remains family-owned, with Ed's son Brad working in the firm's corporate development group and his daughter Lindy serving as international business development manager.
And these last three years have been among M. Holland's busiest. The firm has made two deals in 2015 alone, buying automotive-focused resin distribution firm Polymer Z LLC of Birmingham, Mich., and forming a joint venture with Mexican distributor Grupo Solquim SA de CV. In late 2012, M. Holland made its first-ever acquisition, purchasing resin distributor Christler Chemical & Plastics Inc. of Wilsonville, Ore.
As for his legacy as CEO, Ed Holland said that he wants M. Holland “to be the gold standard in plastics.”
“That entails being a family company — which has nothing to do with your last name,” he explained. “It has to do with your heart and soul. I want M. Holland to be known for the highest of ethics, for adherence to core values, and for being the place of choice for the best-in-class people in our industry.”
“I want M. Holland and our reputation to be the best way to honor our founder and my father, Marvin Holland. I believe we have been successful at doing just that. I want the next generation of our leadership to continue in this same path long after I am gone.”
Q: How would you describe your company and its culture?
Holland: M. Holland is a distributor of thermoplastic resins throughout North America. We aspire to be the gold standard in plastics. Our culture is one of our great differentiators. We are a family company having nothing to do with your last name. We believe in our people first, customers and suppliers second. I strongly believe that if we treat our most important assets - our people - well then that will translate to our business partners and stakeholders - our customers and suppliers - in a successful manner.
Q: What's the most interesting or challenging part of your job?
Holland: Building M. Holland from a small, regional reseller into a true distributor throughout the North American market and beyond. We also are very significant in the trading space, both domestic and international. Doing these multiple market functions all under one roof, working in concert with each group, and aligning our goals and needs with those of our suppliers and customers is truly a complex business.
Add the changes going on due to shale gas, shale oil and all the international expansions and we have a very dynamic market with boundless opportunities to grow and prosper. This is a great time to be in the plastics business in North America.
Q: Best career advice?
Holland: Just be yourself. And I give that to anybody who asks me as well. Which includes our core values as our foundation of behavior. Integrity. Honesty. Loyalty. Trust. Work Ethic. Character. Passion. Respect. If you have these qualities, you can be successful at anything.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting at your company tomorrow?
Holland: The most important thing to be successful at M. Holland is that you must fit into the company culture. If you do, your chance of success and advancement is very high. I actually have this conversation with every new hire as part of their onboarding process.