Change continues to be afoot in our industry in a big way. As you peruse this issue of Supply House Times you will notice consolidation is very much alive and well on the distributor front, as well as with buying groups with the recent big news Omni, Equity and IMARK (electrical) are merging into one group with Omni and Equity comprising the new entity’s plumbing interests. As one famous Chicago weatherman likes to say, “That’s something!”

But I can tell you one thing that never changes in this industry. For the last six or seven years (I’ve lost track) I’ve trekked down to Michigan Avenue in Chicago to a multi-use theatre now called Venue Six10 (next door to where I went to college), the home of industry consultant, speaker and Supply House Times columnist Dirk Beveridge’s UnleashWD Innovation Summit.

The two-day event brings folks in all walks of distribution together to hear a nonstop stream of guest speakers, mainly from outside the distribution realm (that in itself makes the event unique). In fact, up until a few years ago it was 100% non-distribution speakers dispensing reams of wisdom that made them successful in their fields whether the founder of a startup hoodie company, a decorated military leader or a sharp-tongued former Fortune 100 chief marketing officer.

I’ve always said if you don’t walk away from an UnleashWD with at least one nugget of usable/actionable/innvoative information (generally it’s at least 10 times that), something’s wrong with you.

This year was no different, particularly when it came to keynote speaker Andrew Berlin, the chairman and CEO of south-suburban Chicago-based Berlin Packaging, a distributor of packaging goods (Porter Pipe and Supply’s Nick Porter was another distribution industry speaker this year). Berlin, who also owns the Chicago Cubs’ Class A affiliate in South Bend, Indiana (South Bend Cubs), has taken Berlin Packaging from a company valued at $11.5 million in 1988 to current-day valuation of $2.6 billion.

His secret sauce? Where do I start?

“We aren’t in the business of selling packaging,” he told the audience. “We are in the business of selling EBITDA growth (a measure of a company’s operating performance) and the currency for that is packaging. We don’t sell products. We sell results. Don’t stop at satisfaction — surprise and delight. Make no small plans. Aim to thrill.”

To that point, Berlin says teaching the selling of EBITDA is key. “Most people are good at products and price and benefits, but most salespeople are not good at selling EBITDA,” he said. “We hire people with business acumen and then teach them how to sell EBITDA. We’ve turned finance people and accountants into salespeople.”

Berlin also makes no bones about his feelings for competition. “We want to crush the competition. You outgrow the market by taking share,” he said. “I dedicate myself to the demise of our competitors. If you don’t share that passion, maybe there is another job out there for you.”

Berlin talked about having a specific strategic plan that deals with failure. “Put your mistakes in a bucket and make it a goal not to do them again,” he said. “Make plans not to make the same mistakes the following year. It’s a very powerful strategy that requires an organization to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m going to learn from our mistakes.’”

But at the end of the day, Berlin says the journey on the path to success needs to have some fun mixed in. “Business is more fun if you can connect emotionally,” he said. “You have the ability to beat it, crush it and get all the juice out of it and enjoy the journey.

“Focus on being the best and focus on crushing the competition and making a lot more money so you can brown your toes under a palm tree. That’s sexy to me.”