Executive Perspectives: Rustin Luedtke, vice president of sales and marketing for Label Works and FolderWorks
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 Rustin Luedtke, vice president of sales and marketing for Label Works and FolderWorks, North Mankato, Minn. Here, he talks about the inspiration for a new product line, explains why he hates complacency and reveals how he ultimately left his “Animal House” lifestyle behind.
How did you first get started in this industry, and what path did you take to land in your current role?
Rustin Luedtke: I started my first printing job while I was in college. I ran a Swing Arm Heidelberg press, crash imprinting forms. I can still remember press clean-ups on Friday nights, trying to get the reflex blue ink off my hands. My journey to being the vice president of sales and marketing for our Label Works and FolderWorks divisions was anything but a straight path. I have been blessed to experience many sales and leadership roles, including [as] a distributor working for Staples Print Solutions, [and as] a pharma rep for seven years, selling several different solutions [like] technology and direct mail. The most recent portion of my journey has led me to my current role over our Labels, Packaging and Folders divisions. One of my current mentors, Bill Bohning, will be retiring later this summer. Bill has been in a leadership role at Navitor for over 30 years, and I have been fortunate enough to have him as a friend and mentor for the past five. In essence, you could say that Bill is passing me the labels, packaging and folders torch.
How do you set goals for yourself? For your business?
RL: I am a soccer coach outside of work. I typically approach my personal goals as I [would] my soccer teams. First, evaluate what you have to work with and where your current state is in comparison to your goal state. Second, understand the time and commitment it is going to take to hit your goal. Third, put a game plan together based on what you know. Fourth, work your tail off to hit your goal. In regard to the goals for the business, I typically look at setting a realistic, yet aggressive, budget. From the budget, I will set a stretch goal. After setting the stretch goal, I will set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Over the past five years, our team has been able to hit the BHAG goal twice.
What do you expect to be some of the biggest challenges the industry might face?
RL: As the baby boomers continue to make their way to retirement, I believe that labor is going to be a large challenge for our industry. This will challenge both the production side of our business, as well as the front end and service functions. I also believe that technology continues to present a challenge and opportunity for our business. Customers want intuitive technology that makes their buying experience easier. The challenge will be to continue building out technologies that are not only functional, but meet the changing needs and demands of the next generation of buyers.
How does the economy continue to affect the industry?
RL: The economy has continued to cause consolidations. Pricing pressures and a more global approach to the economy have really driven this. You have to continue to find ways to be more efficient with your assets to be more competitive.
What keeps you up at night?
RL: If I am unable to sleep at night, it generally will be about how to make some facet of our business better. In looking at a function within our business, I love to challenge why we are doing something a certain way. If the answer is “we have always done it this way,” that is when I start to lose sleep. A growth mindset is something that I grew up with (thanks, Mom and Dad). I think every aspect of a business should be challenged to grow and improve. Once the creative juices start flowing around this process, sleep can certainly become a little more challenging.
What do you think is the most exciting, cutting-edge thing your company is doing right now? Why?
RL: FolderWorks and Label Works are adding a new product line named PackageWorks. You will see more around this new line in March and April, but the gist is that we will now be producing short-run folded cartons and packaging-related materials. We have added new equipment that has made the finishing process more efficient, [in addition to] new print and decorating equipment that will allow us to produce spot raised UV and raised foil. With the growth in the craft business space, as well as the focus on personalization and versioning, we feel that we have developed something unique that our distributors will be able to profit from.
What would people be surprised to learn about you—hobbies, special interests, etc.?
RL: People might not guess that I took the seven-year plan to get through college. My first stint in college looked a little like the movie “Animal House.” After being encouraged to take a break from school, I was able to get my priorities a little more aligned and was able to complete school with a fairly respectable GPA. By the way, I met my wife during that break. She likes to take credit for part of my turnaround.