Fiterman Plays Follow the LeaderDate : 04/05/2003
Mike Fiterman, president and owner of Liberty Diversified Industries (LDI), Minneapolis, Minn., doesn’t consider his company great.
“We’re just a big sheet plant,” says Fiterman, as he began his keynote industry speaker address to approximately 570 attendees at last week’s Association of Independent Corrugated Converters (AICC) Annual Spring Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hill Resort in San Antonio, Texas. “I don’t feel that I am any more successsful than any one of you. We are a good company but I don’t consider us a great one.
“What we do is look at what the customer is looking for and concentrate on what we can do to get it to them,” he continues. “In this industry, we think, ‘What do I make and how do I sell it?’ when we should be thinking, “What do the customers need and how can I produce it?”
THE THIRD GENERATION
-Fiterman, a third generation box maker, is working hard at creating a legacy and preserving the foundation set by his father and grandfather.
The foundation for LDI as it is currently was set in the early 1900’s by Fiterman’s grandfather who was a peddler by trade. Fiterman says his grandpa’s strategic plan when he started the business was just to put food on the table.
“He would go from store to store and pick up crates, then make boxes for ice or coal burning furnaces,” Fiterman says. “When corrugated became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, he taped over the holes and began using those boxes.”
Fiterman calls his dad the “Walt Disney” of LDI.
“He is like a father to all the employees and treated them like family, while coming up with all the ideas” he says. “That was the beginning of our processes of operating under ‘What does the customer need and how can we deliver it?”
In Fiterman’s eyes, the industry is doing about as well as it did in 1996. Since he doesn’t know how soon it will get much better, LDI just continues to focus on getting customers what they need, through its six box plants, broken down into three corrugated and three sheet plants, and a fully operational paper mill known as Liberty Paper, again, build for the customers. LDI also has a large bulk container division and office products division, which offer smaller value but are more creative.
The company, which has more than 1700 employees, is the largest manufacturer of corrugated plastic in the world. LDI has a vision to be considered one of the best manufacturing and marketing companies in North America, and to accomplish this task, Fiterman wears three hats, in addition to being the top executive.
“I am head cheerleader, head talent scout and head strategist,” Fiterman says. “If I catch people doing things right, I try to recognize them for that. My dad gave me that responsibility at a young age and it is one that has given me great confidence.
“Every manager and individual has to be a talent scout and I am looking to create something special. It is never too early to instill in everyone that we are here for business. It is not your birthright to run the company unless you are capable, not the other way around.”
LEADERSHIP AND PASSION
-Fiterman’s secret is putting people first and everything else second. Leadership and passion are his mantra.
“Leadership is about vision,” he says. “Leaders are the ones who are their to support people. It can’t be taught if you don’t have it. It can only be learned. You have to be confident and modest, which makes yourself and people more powerful.
“Being authoritative will protect people from danger. That is the most important job, making more leaders. You need leaders in the industry, leaders in the company to succeed in different times.
“We also have passion, a passion for customer service and being a unique solution for our customer’s needs,” Fiterman continues. “We started ‘thinking outside the box’ early and that is something we do every day. We look at the lowest cost solution, not the lowest price solution. We try to be the best in creating niche companies.”