Last month marked an occasion that many in the US office products industry, and indeed further afield, thought would never happen. After a career spanning some 52 years, all of it devoted to the world of OP, one of our industry’s legendary characters finally "retired".
Having said that, retirement was never going to be a simple affair for Avery Dennison senior vice president Jess Beim. Many of us who know him well, and have watched him being taunted at industry functions in recent years about whether he would ever truly head off for the quiet life, were not surprised that his first action upon leaving Avery was to set himself up in a little serviced office close to home! "What do you want me to do, Steve- he said. "I’ve left the house to earn a living every day for over 50 years."
Not surprisingly, he’s busier than ever, fielding a constant stream of phone calls and emails from friends and colleagues the world over. You see, that’s what happens to people like Jess who are, sadly, regarded as "old school". Teachers from that school understand traditional values – an uncompromising work ethic, coupled with dedication, passion, involvement and a true appreciation of the people around them.
Marking the presentation of its 2007 Spirit of Life award to Jess, the City of Hope echoed the sentiments of us all when it noted that he is a man of high integrity who has built enduring business, industry and personal relationships and has managed to keep pace with modern business developments without abandoning traditional values.
But is there still a p lace for such values in today’s ultra-competitive commercial world? I would argue that there is, and point to other beacons of light such as Jamie Fellowes, Sharon Avent, Wayne Beacham, Eric Bigeard, to name just a few of our current leaders who achieve success by earning the respect of the people they rely on to execute their vision.
Remember Tom Stemberg and Irwin Helford? Brilliant strategists who turned the OP industry on its head through effective leadership and the harvesting of collective talent – not the authoritarian "my way or the highway" approach which has often been evident at some of our industry’s under-performing players.
Companies managed by individuals who clearly fail to appreciate that their oversized egos and personal bank accounts stuffed full of OP dollars exist only because of the hard work of the people they purport to lead, and of course their customers. Remember those?
Am I being sentimental? Maybe a little, but I firmly believe humility still has a place at the top of a successful organisation. Take the industry toast at the recent European Office Products Awards (reviewed on page 33 of this issue. On this note, my personal apologies to those who attended for our choice of German "comedian" – it won’t happen again). For most in the room, it was their first opportunity to listen to Staples’ CEO, Ron Sargent, who delivered a masterful and witty insight into why his company’s performance in its first ten years after entering Europe was so rubbish. No excuses or blamestorming (nor bodyguards), just a humble yet humorous admission that even the mighty Staples screws up sometimes.
It was undoubtedly one of the best-received presentations in OPI event history, and Sargent’s attendance at the late night post-dinner party, beer in hand despite a looming 6am flight to Boston, was refreshing and warmly acknowledged by Staples’ many vendor partners in the room.
So thanks for making the effort, Ron. And to Jess – thanks for your inspiration over the years and accept our industry’s best wishes for a long and healthy retirement with Lill. Although I happily suspect we haven’t seen the last of you…
Steve Hilleard, publisher and CEO