Real Leaders

The Business Efficiency of Integrity

While much has been written about the relationship between integrity, trust and profitability in the last few years, there are companies who have lived this for over 100 years, like a 165 year old, billion dollar plus, 6 generation family business in Wisconsin, Menasha Corp.  Last year, in a discussion on the paradox of integrity, trust and vulnerability with John Hagel, Saul Kaplan, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corp. (MPC) and myself, shared how integrity is key to Menasha’s success.

Located in the Fox Valley of Wisconsin, Menasha Corp. started out making wooden pails and is now comprised of two businesses that make packaging solutions for multiple industries. How many family-held companies can you name that are 165 years old and thriving?  That’s why Menasha’s leadership story is so important. It has sustained several depressions, recessions, wars, calamities and disruptions. So, I asked Jim Kotek, Menasha Corp’s CEO, to share his view of the top leadership traits that have led Menasha’s two business’s, Menasha Packaging Corporation (MPC) and ORBIS, continued success and growth. Jim summed it up in four intertwined traits:

  • Integrity: Leadership’s values are aligned with each other;
  • Passion & Commitment: Leadership is passionate about the businesses they are in and committed to the success of their customers, their employees and the company overall;
  • Discipline & Accountability:  Promises are kept and executed; expectations are communicated; strategic directions are established, reviewed, adapted, communicated and tracked;
  • Ego-less: Leadership is driven by what’s best for their customers and company, not what’s best for them.

The “no ego” mentality is long-standing in Menasha.  Decades ago, Donald “Tad” Shepard, the great-grandson of Menasha Corporation’s founder Elisha Smith, said, “Arrogance, pomposity and self-importance don’t have a place here.” Bill Ash, President of ORBIS, and Mike Waite, President of MPC (and Tad’s son-in-law), are servant leaders and stewards of their businesses, which permeate the culture. Walk the hallways or the plant floors and you see people willing to help each other, saying “Yes” as a first response.  Those who put their ego first simply don’t succeed at Menasha.

Businesses complain about the lack of discipline and accountability.  Menasha’s leadership, because of their stewardship mentality and the leaders’ personalities, have balanced discipline and accountability with adaptability and flexibility. They are not rigid and fixed but use their strategic plans as a way to hold each other responsible from the President down to the plant floor based on a common vision and direction for growth. Their strategic plans are not cast in concrete, but are regularly reviewed, evaluated, assessed, revised and always communicated as living breathing documents that adapt with the world.  I like to refer to their plans as cast in “Jell-O” – supportable, realistic yet not rigid.

Leadership’s passion and commitment to their customers, employees and community is evident.  You see the excitement when they talk about how real customer problems are being solved and employees have opportunities for growth and impact – which is why the companies are growing and succeeding. Both leaders’ personalities and talents are aligned with their markets. Bill’s background in finance is a perfect fit for ORBIS’s markets, which are laser focused on ROI, supply chain and efficiency. Bill’s ability to identify with ORBIS’s customers’ needs, issues, and concerns and help align his organization around these with the freedom to solve problems is key to ORBIS’s success.

Mike’s background in sales and marketing is spot on with MPC’s markets, many of which are CPG (Customer Product Good) companies struggling to increase sales and brand equity at the fiercely competitive retailers. Mike’s ability to identify with MPC’s customers’ challenges in breaking through the noise and clutter of today’s markets, and aligning and freeing his team to innovate is key to MPC’s success. Did this alignment of leadership with their markets happen deliberately or by luck? A little of both, for luck is not always by chance. Lastly, Integrity. 

You can say that Menasha represents our country’s long-lost midwestern values, and that could be valid. All I know is that throughout my years of working with both companies, integrity has never been an issue and has always been a given – at all levels of the companies. Aligned values, reinforced by the daily behavior and actions of leadership in all business dealings are the nourishment that sustain their virtues-based culture.

As we were wrapping up our conversation, Jim said “If you have to spend time managing ego and lack of integrity, you’ve lost time focusing on the markets and your people.  We [Menasha] are very blessed.” Menasha is indeed blessed, but not by accident. They haven’t been willing to sacrifice integrity. They’ve held true to their values, expecting everyone to live by them no matter what the title. 165 years later they are disrupting markets, growing their facilities, hiring people, supporting their communities and giving back to the shareholders. 

That’s not a bad legacy for over one and half centuries. How about you? Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter!

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