Career Path: Paper company leader first climbed the corporate ladder laterally | Crain's Dallas

Career Path: Paper company leader first climbed the corporate ladder laterally

John Simpson, general manager of Southern Champion Tray, talks about the path that led him to the job in Mansfield. | Photo courtesy of Southern Champion Tray. 

John Simpson took the long route climbing the corporate ladder. However, he now leads a $25 million a year paper and cardboard printing company in Mansfield.

Simpson is the general manager for Southern Champion Tray’s Mansfield plant and has worked in paper plants across the country doing a wide variety of jobs.

During his career he has been an auditor, a consultant, a vice president, a chief operating officer and regional general manager. He’s overseen mergers and acquisitions, turned struggling plants around, created competitive employee cultures and made presentations to the boards of directors for a $200 million business.

But Simpson’s career wasn't a meteoric rise to the top of the paper printing pyramid.

“I went lateral so I had a very diversified experience base before I worried about moving up,” Simpson said. “That gave me a well-rounded job experience. I don’t see people doing that these days. People don't have the patience to do that anymore."

Q: Why is it important for people to move laterally through a business? And why is that going out of style?

A: You need to walk in the shoes of those you hope to manage. I know patience doesn’t go with millennials but at some point you’ve got to learn the basics of the business.

Q: How has this path benefited you as an executive today?

A: [I have] become a better mentor for people coming up through our organization. I’m able to sit down with them and give them real-life lessons.It’s important to develop the right kind of experience. You’ll be better at predicting business trends and needs and avoiding a mistake.

Q: How did you get into the paper and packing industry?

A: I started with a packing conglomerate. I saw there was still room for innovation and to add value. It’s something different every day. Customers have new challenges and the market is always changing at an exponential rate.

Q: Has e-commerce hurt your business by making everything online?

A: No. Regardless of what happens with e-commerce and brick and mortar, packaging will always be needed. 

Q: What do you love about the paper packaging industry?

A: How can you not get excited about helping customers increase their sales and their brand loyalty. The whole thing collectively is an experience. The look, the touch, the feel. If the product is as advertised then it completes that whole experience and reinforces additional purchase.

Q: Did any of these jobs intimidate you?

A: I don’t know if I’d use the word intimidating. I changed jobs a lot. Early on, I had some angst or trepidation but I used that to fuel the fire and I’d work extra hard to make sure I didn’t screw up too bad. Sometimes the level of exposure and just the pace was real challenging but I think a little bit of that is healthy. It gets you up in the morning.

September 7, 2017 - 4:55pm