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The Stick-To-It Man

Mitchell Butier prides himself on learning from the mistakes and successes of others. “I didn’t need to put my finger in the fire to understand that it burns,” he said during an interview with the Business Journal. But this bit of wisdom does not keep him from taking calculated risks on the job. The 45-year-old chief executive of Avery Dennison Corp. has been with the company for 16 years and worked his way up the ladder – starting as the head of finance for the office products business in North America. Since succeeding former chief executive Dean Scarborough, now chairman of the board, on May 1, Butier has said he plans to continue taking the company’s “strengths and leveraging them into some higher growth markets.” Butier sat down with the Business Journal at the company’s corporate office in Glendale to discuss Avery Dennison’s role as market leader in the pressure sensitive materials industry, his managing style and some of his favorite hobbies with his college sweetheart and two boys. Question: How did you get into this business? Answer: I actually interned with Avery Dennison when I was at university. I spent a couple of summers and a winter in between college semesters interning here. I was an accounting major in college, so I interned at different departments of the accounting and finance group. Then I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Avery was my client the entire time. My first time going abroad was with PwC but it was to support the client service to Avery Dennison, and the whole time I loved the business, loved the values, loved the people. And that’s really what made me want to join Avery. It was really about the people. There’s just a real strong sense of camaraderie and focus on excellence. When did you join the company? I joined Avery in 2000. I started off as the head of finance for our office products business in North America, which is now divested. And then I went from there to our pressure sensitive business – the labels that go on shampoo bottles and so forth – in Europe, then our retail apparel business for a few years, then I hit corporate. How would you describe the global label and packaging industry right now? This is an industry that has shown consistent growth. Some regions are slowing down from what they used to be while others are accelerating, but if you look across the whole globe, I’d say there’s consistent growth. If you look at shampoo, beers and all these things, consumption stays relatively consistent. Take the apparel label business – there are winners and losers in that space but we supply labels to the whole business. What would you say are some of the strengths of Avery Dennison? One of the greatest strengths is the culture of the company. It’s very team-oriented and focused on doing what’s right for the business and the broader organization. We are very good at executing – doing what we said we were going to do. Weaknesses? As far as weaknesses, I wouldn’t call it any weaknesses, but opportunities for us. It’s really about how do we take those strengths and leverage them into some higher growth markets. You’ve heard us talk about leveraging our strength in our apparel labels businesses to get into graphics and specialty tapes more – which is what our acquisition in Europe was about – it’s about leveraging those strengths to take advantage of some opportunities. That’s really the focus for us. Can you give me an example of how the team delivers or accomplishes what it sets out to do? Well, I guess the best example is on a macro level. We set up some very ambitious goals that we went public with a number of years ago, both financially and for sustainability, and we have delivered on all of them. A number of investors say a lot of companies say they’re going to do things but never do it; we set long term goals every year and we hit them. How does Avery Dennison differentiate itself from the competition? Innovation. We are the innovation leader in our space; we spend by far more on innovation than other companies and for me, one of the things I say is we’re not just here to make Avery Dennison healthy, we’re here to make the industry healthy as the market leaders. Granted, it’s not a highly innovative space from a consumer standpoint – innovation for us would be to reduce the amount of adhesives required to make a label stick. As a consumer, you would not think about how much innovation it takes to do that, but that’s the sort of thing we do. We are also using our position as the market leader to try to drive the industry to be much more sustainable, basically reducing the impact on the earth. What past experiences prepared you for your leadership roles? Past experiences? I can’t isolate one. I’d say every step I’ve taken has been a step toward this. Living overseas a couple of times was a huge preparation, not just because of the international experience, but because you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone in a big way and learning that there are other ways to look at the same problem. It’s about reinforcing the value of diverse thinking. Even though something might be clear as day to you, it’s good to hear it from somebody else. Everything I’ve worked through has been a huge step for me. What are your strengths as a leader? I’m somebody who learns from other people, that’s a key strength of mine. I’m the seventh of nine siblings and I’ve told my older brothers that I’ve learned as much about what not to do from them as I have about what to do (he laughs). I didn’t need to put my finger in the fire to understand that it burns. So that’s a little bit of who I am and what’s enabled me to get where I am. That and the international experience really taught me the value of different perspectives and it was a huge benefit. Did you see yourself running this company as chief executive? It’s interesting, I didn’t have this vision and say ‘I want to be CEO, or I want to do this,’ 10 years ago. I’ve always felt, as I imagine many people do, confidence in being able to move through and drive value if you will, but for me I’ve always wanted to have a lot of impact. And I’ve always had clear views and opinions here at Avery about what we’re doing and I was willing to engage in that from early on. What about the company culture attracts you? One of the things that attracted me to Avery Dennison is that no matter where I was, even when they were just a client of mine, I’d voice opinions and be able to engage people much more senior than me and they would entertain me and engage with me and have a dialogue. To me that’s what told me Avery is the right place to be. And the company has taken a number of chances on me, putting me in positions and allowing me to jump into the deep end with ankle weights on. I think for anyone to say there was a single lightbulb moment is not the case. Life is an accumulation of experiences and decisions you make and for anybody to point back to one item isn’t likely – I know it doesn’t read as well, but that’s how I look at things. What was your childhood like? I grew up in Torrance, the seventh of nine siblings. And I look at leading the company as a team sport, which was very much a factor of how I was raised. It was a team sport raising me. My older sister would pick me up on a tandem bicycle from kindergarten with my younger brother in the baby seat in the back and the middle seat empty waiting for me. That was her element of helping raise me and there are many examples of that overall. All of my siblings and I are very different, so just imagine how the team can come together to raise the younger half of the family. I went to public schools up until high school, and went to a Catholic high school. I got my first job at 14 working at an Italian deli making sandwiches. Who are the most influential people in your life? One is my wife, Teresa. We have been together my whole adult life. The other most influential person is hard to identify because there have been so many. I’d say my family collectively. I was raised by my older siblings as much as by my parents – and be sure to capture them as a group because I can’t tell you the fights that’ll happen if I only name one of them. (He laughs.) What was the turning point of your career? If I think about turning points relative to other people, I think it was my first time living abroad. I was 25 years old at the time and that was kind of what changed me and led to my having a global international career versus just taking the alternative path of staying in Torrance in SoCal the whole time, which would have led to a very different direction. I think that turned me on to what ultimately led me to where I am. What advice would you offer someone considering a career in the label business? No matter what you’re doing, focus on the key success of the business, and put the business first – and then put your team and teammates ahead of yourself. There is nothing specific about this industry unless you’re a chemist in the adhesives business. But if you are a communications person, a finance person, HR or IT – really a lot of times you’re trained and your education is in a particular degree but you’ve got to be a business person first and think about the business.

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