Tomorrow, Jon Rich firmly believes, is going to be the best day of his career.
And that kind of forward-thinking philosophy has served the CEO of Berry Plastics Group Inc. well in his business life.
“I've thoroughly enjoyed every job that I've had. But the most interesting job that I've had is the one I have now. I'm absolutely sure that the best day I'm going to have in my career is tomorrow. I tend to look forward, not back,” he said.
That approach has helped Rich become the leader of the plastic consumer packaging and engineered materials company that recently acquired Avintiv Inc., a maker of polypropylene and polyethylene flexible nonwoven products. That deal adds $2.1 billion in annual sales to boost Berry Plastics' total to more than $7 billion and into the Fortune 500.
Rich, who has been CEO at Berry Plastics since 2010, did not set out to be a CEO. It's just where life took him.
He started out spending 10 years as a research and development chemist at General Electric Co. before moving into management, taking on a series of jobs with different companies, including Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., that ultimately lead to his position at Berry Plastics.
A desire to continue learning throughout his career opened doors that he never thought he would pass through when he graduated college.
“Frankly, I thought I would be a research scientist my entire life. But once I got to GE, I actually discovered that really what got me excited was not just seeing technologies get created, but seeing them get commercialized and benefit customers and benefit our companies. I think that probably started me on a business career that I had never anticipated,” he said.
“It was never the way I approached my career, having a clearly thought through step ladder to the corner office. I just kept trying to find opportunities that would be new learning experiences and ones that would, if I succeeded in the job, accomplish the goals that my employer had for that job,” the CEO said.
Rich is smart enough to know that there are often even smarter people in the room, and he knows the importance of surrounding himself with such folks.
“The great thing about being a CEO is that you have the opportunity to work with great people. I think my No. 1 job is to make sure we get the right people into the company, create an environment for them to succeed and give them the tools to be successful,” Rich said. “And get people who are, frankly, smarter than I am, better in their fields than I am. If you can get those right people in place, the job is not very difficult.”
Rich said it is important for every employee of Berry Plastics to understand their importance to the company.
“I often tell people that every job exists for a reason. We don't have any extra jobs. And we're not creating jobs just for employment. The reason we create jobs is because every job is critical to Berry Plastics,” he said.
“For me personally, and I think for everybody in their career, the important things that you have to do is understand how what you are doing in your job is connected to the success of the company that you work for,” he said. “And that includes understanding the company's strategy, being able to articulate that strategy. But, most importantly, it's about execution.”
“I've always been fortunate in being able to see those things and to articulate them. And I think the success that I had in the job that I was in at the time led to the next opportunity that I got,” Rich said.
As CEO of Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Plastics, Rich has one of the higher profile jobs in the plastics packaging business. But he is not one to seek out the spotlight.
“I really would prefer that people know more about Berry Plastics than me,” he said. “It's not about me. It's all about Berry Plastics. If people never know my name, but they know that Berry Plastics is the best supplier for a plastic package, then I would have succeeded.”