Executive Perspectives: Jim Kersten, CEO of Diversified Labeling Solutions
As part of Print+Promo’s ongoing feature, Executive Perspectives, we get to know leading professionals in the print and promotional industry. This month, we interviewed Jim Kersten, CEO of Diversified Labeling Solutions, Itasca, Ill. Here, he explains how his company is addressing environmental concerns, gets candid about overseas competition and talks about the art of innovation.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Jim Kersten: I entered the print industry right out of college when I was recruited to be a sales representative for a Chicago-based printing company, Wallace Computer Services. Little did I know this job would lead me on a career-long adventure that touched [on] all areas of print management. I spent many years with Wallace in sales, marketing, management and executive positions. Eventually, the company merged with the Moore Corporation and then with RR Donnelley. My goal had always been to run a company, and, about nine years ago, I had the opportunity to become CEO of Diversified Labeling Solutions. The owner at that time was seeking to grow the company and expand its production footprint. He was looking for someone to take the reins and help him make this happen. I am very proud to be part of the Diversified team.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
JK: Goal setting is very important. It allows us, individually and collectively, to establish a road map against which we can judge our progress. Personally, I like to hold myself accountable for achieving goals; it’s energizing. Our team at Diversified does a great job establishing short- and long-term objectives, which has helped the company be successful on an ongoing basis.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
JK: As a label manufacturer, [I’d say] the health of the economy has a direct reflection on our business. When the economy is good, more products are manufactured, sold and shipped. All of these activities require our products. We tend to stay somewhat ahead of the gross domestic product. Likewise, when the economy begins to soften, we are one of the first companies to see the downward trend. A strong manufacturing economy, in particular, is very important to our growth and financial stability.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry will face?
JK: There are several threats to the label industry. First, technology keeps changing the way companies run and people live. Today, labels are a perfect way to identify products, packages and processes; in the future, that information may be printed directly onto an item, or may not be printed at all.
Also, environmental concerns are growing; we all need to become greener and more respectful of the environment. That means creating an easily recyclable product, reducing waste and finding better ways to dispose of waste than [through] landfills. At Diversified, we repurpose our label production waste into fuel pellets that are used by utilities to generate energy with much lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels.
Finally, there is an international threat to our industry. While traditionally being a domestic business, we are facing increased competition from overseas—both due to more manufacturing (and labeling) being done there, and from label products being produced overseas and then sent to the U.S. in bulk for distribution to end-users at lower costs than what we can manufacture labels for locally. We mitigate these risks by constantly seeking ways to reduce our costs, eliminate waste, improve manufacturing and distribution efficiencies, and enhance sustainability.
What keeps you up at night?
JK: Great question. I worry a lot about our future and what we need to do at Diversified to continuously reinvent ourselves and our business. I also worry about finding ways to keep our sales and profits growing so that we can continue to provide solid, long-term career opportunities for our talented team members.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
JK: I really like the marketing effort we utilize to support our distributors. We custom brand almost everything we do in order to provide our distributors with personalized marketing for both web and print purposes, including: videos, catalogs, collateral, content information, samples, newsletters, photos and label tool kits. We work to provide them with everything they need to be successful in their label sales efforts.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JK: Most people are surprised when they learn that I have an affinity for home renovation and building. It comes from my early years growing up in our family hardware store and remodeling company. I owe a lot to my dad, who taught me to love renovation and construction. It is a great offset to the office work, desk time and travel associated with my daily routine.