Tom Salmon, CEO-in-waiting at Berry Plastics Group Inc., has this to say about change: Embrace it.
As the newly appointed chief operating officer at the Evansville, Ind.-based plastics company, Salmon is working with soon-to-be retiring CEO Jon Rich on a leadership transition.
Come early next year, Rich will start focusing more on fishing and grandchildren, and Salmon will move to the CEO's office at the multibillion-dollar corporation. And he says he's ready.
“It's always been an ambition,” Salmon said about leading a company. “It's always been something I've worked toward.”
Salmon's work journey has taken him through some rather large companies, including General Electric, Allied Signal and, now, Berry Plastics. Along the way, he has witnessed the power of accepting and embracing change.
“Personally, I've seen it in my career. But change is happening that much faster today in the marketplace in terms of information flow, in terms of consolidation of end customers,” Salmon said. “You've seen the marketplaces that we serve [in] a mergers-and-acquisitions frenzy where major consumer packaging companies combine together.
“That's an opportunity for change. Some could fear that. Some could embrace that. My suggestion and promotion to our team is [to] embrace that kind of change,” Salmon said.
“It's an opportunity to lever all the things that Berry Plastics can bring to the marketplace,” he said. “Companies, when they are going through change, want someone that is a calm voice, that's a calm voice that ultimately says, ‘We've got this. We've got this,'” Salmon said.
Salmon has witnessed first-hand the power of change, including his time first at General Electric where, he said, “if you didn't embrace change early on, you didn't stick around very long.
“I think it's just the right mindset in a global marketplace that just is changing so much faster than it ever has before,” Salmon said.
Part of fearing change, is fearing the potential for failure.
But the upcoming CEO says failure can lead to success.
“Listen, my motto is ‘fail fast.' Fail as fast as you possibly can, but learn from it. If you ultimately repeat the same failure, shame on you and it hasn't been a valuable experience. But if you ultimately learn from it and it makes you a better individual and makes you a better organization, then it's a valuable life experience,” he said.
Salmon has been with Berry Plastics since 2007 when Berry Plastics merged with Covalence Specialty Materials Holding Corp., where he was in charge of the Adhesives division. Berry Plastics and Covalence were both owned by private equity firm Apollo Management LP at the time. Covalence was the former Tyco International Ltd. plastics and adhesives group. Berry later went public in 2012.
Most recently, Salmon has been president of the company's Consumer Packaging division, but also previously led the company's Rigid Closed Top division and its Engineered Materials division.
Berry Plastics, throughout its history, has been a company known for growing through acquisitions. And while the company will continue to look for deals, the firm is not looking to grow for growth's sake.
“There still continues to be a huge opportunity inside of this space. But it has to make sense for Berry. It has to make sense for our shareholders. It has to make sense for our customers,” Salmon said. “The neat thing about the plastics industry, it's still incredibly fragmented.”
Berry Plastics, he said, has made commitments to pay down debt. “And we're going to honor that,” Salmon said. “That's the objective and commitment we've made to the marketplace.”
The company made big news with its $2.45 billion deal for Avintiv Inc. in 2015, which propelled the firm deeply into the non-wovens market.
Berry Plastics now is in the process of finalizing the $765 million acquisition of flexible packaging films AEP Industries Inc. of Montvale, N.J. This move will actually help lower the company's debt-to-earnings ratio more quickly.
Salmon credits Rich for setting the table for continued success at the company.
“Berry is not a broken entity. It is a company that in Jon's leadership that has delivered phenomenal results over the last six years. Jon's leaving an incredible platform for us to grow and build from, so that's the good thing. I look at it always in terms of how can we continuously improve in terms of people, process and products in everything we do,” he said.