For each issue since it’s inception, FlexPack VOICE® has hosted a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader. In this edition, we interview Fredy Steng, director of sales, strategic accounts, at Berry Global Group Inc. and a member of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA) Chairperson’s Advisory Council.
Steng has been working since the 1960s, primarily in sales and executive management positions, staying with companies after various acquisitions that eventually included Berry Global. He currently works with clients nationwide that are strategic accounts.
After he got out of U.S. Army counterintelligence in 1960, he worked for Union Carbide Corporation. “At the time, Union Carbide dominated the plastics industry. It was so interesting that I decided to stay with it,” Steng says. “I have not been disappointed.”
“I was the youngest guy in my division by 30 years, so I was put on the road. I had never really traveled,” says Steng, who was born in Bronx, New York. “I grew up in New York, and my mother thought that if you traveled 10 miles west of the George Washington Bridge, you would fall off the end of the Earth.”
The resident of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, has been a widower for the past 19 years. He says he enjoys working and will continue doing so as long as he can be effective at Berry.
“I’ve never thought about retirement,” says Steng, who has lived in the same home for 53 years, while maintaining a second residence on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. “I have a great job. It is a perfect situation for me. I work for a great company, and I try to perform for them with maximum results.”
“The two worst words for me in the English language are ‘fixed income,’” he adds with a laugh.
While he sees great opportunity for everyone in the flexible packaging industry, he thinks the toughest problem facing companies will continue to be recruiting and retaining young talent. He points out that FPA leaders have been
focused on the problem, recently forming the Emerging Leadership Council to pinpoint efforts to attract more people.
“No two days are the same. It’s always different,” he says about the industry.
Various schools nationwide have great packaging programs, he says. But many graduates want to work in larger cities where food companies are based. Companies in the flexible packaging industry often are in rural or suburban areas.
“The schools produce good young people. We want to hire those people. The problem is that young people want to work in major cities,” Steng says, adding that he isn’t sure how to solve the problem. If someone is more settled in life, they might be interested in not living in a city, he adds. “If you have someone who is married, you have a fighting chance. It’s a major concern of our whole industry.”
Early in his career, he enrolled at the New York University (NYU) graduate school of business but quickly adds that was long before it had the reputation it does today as the NYU Stern School of Business.
Among his mentors is Paul Webb, who was a basketball coach at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia from 1956 to 1975 and then at Old Dominion University until 1985. Webb was Steng’s coach when Steng went to Randolph- Macon. Steng still keeps in touch with Webb, who is 93. Here is more from Steng, edited lightly for clarity and space.
FlexPack VOICE®: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry?
Fredy Steng: I would tell them that this is an exciting industry. No two days are the same. If you want an interesting and rewarding life, flexible packaging is the place for you.
FPV: Who were your mentors and why were they important?
FS: I’ve had three mentors: my dad, the best and hardest working man I’ve ever known; my college basketball coach, Paul Webb; and my first boss at Union Carbide, Clayton Myers, who was one of the early pioneers in polyethylene plastic technology.
Paul Webb is 93 years old, and I talked to him recently. My college coach in 1956 was just seven years older than I was. I played on his first college team. We played the game the way it should be played—play fair, play hard, and keep it in perspective because it is a game. If you put your nose to the grindstone, you might win a few. And that’s the way it worked out for me.
My dad came here after World War I from Germany at age 15. He became a baker on the ocean liner, SS Rotterdam. He was a world-class baker. And he worked full time until he was 87 and died in 1992.
Clayton Myers was an interesting man. He was one of the original developers of polyethylene. He was a low-key man who had a lot of savvy, and he was smart. He let me make a lot of mistakes. I dribbled my way through college so I didn’t know a lot about business. He taught me the ropes. He became my teacher. And when I left Union Carbide, we stayed in touch.
Even though I am no longer involved in day-to-day management, I am still asked to provide advice to customers and industry friends on topics such as sales strategy and sales organization. I really enjoy doing that.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking employees?
FS: The same advice I have given for over 55 years as a manager: Work hard, work smart, respect people, and remember that what goes up, can come down.
In mentoring, in the early stages of a company, you hire salespeople out of college who have some sales experience and then you develop their talents. In developing their talents, you are developing their traits. Every time someone goes out and gets a big order, they think they are Superman. You have to remind them that there are hard times, too. You lose business or you put yourself in a position where you are not gaining—and that is the part of “what goes up also comes down.”
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career, good or bad, or both?
FS: In 62 years, I have had mostly good experiences and have forgotten about the few bad ones.
I don’t look back very often. I don’t think the good old days were the good old days. I think the good old days are still ahead of us.
I do remember exactly where I was the day I got married on February 10, 1962, when Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard around the world in 1951, and when the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955.