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Brooke Lee Is a Fourth-Generation Anchor at Anchor Paper

Monday, June 11, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rachel Moore
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NPTA performs quarterly interviews with thought leaders; articles such as the one below are included in Paper Merchant Insider, NPTA's members-only newsletter designed to keep members connected with industry events, each other and all things NPTA. Learn more about NPTA member benefits and join our community today.

Brooke Lee Is a Fourth-Generation Anchor at Anchor Paper
By Teddy Durgin


Anchor Paper Co. in Saint Paul, Minn., is a leading Midwest distributor of fine printing paper, industrial, and packaging products that is currently celebrating its 95th year in business.  Even more remarkable, current CEO Brooke Lee is the fourth generation family owner of the company.  She is in her fourth year at the helm and her 12th year with Anchor Paper, having started in 2006 as an Industrial Supplies and Seed Germination specialist.

In a recent interview, she recalled, "It was a pretty quick transition after my mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.  I'd had the benefit of moving around several of the divisions of our company and was in the process of being groomed.  While I had recently taken on a leadership position in the company, the transition a bit of a trial by fire."

She took the heat and survived, and Anchor Paper is stronger today as a result.  Still, even years later, Lee feels the pressure of continuing such a long legacy.  "I do indeed represent the fourth generation of family leadership and involvement at Anchor," she said, "and I've had a number of people exclaim how rare that is.  They'll say things like, 'Oh, there's not really research past the fourth generation.'  I follow in the footsteps of my mother, who was a real visionary.  Two of the things she did prior to her passing was invest in things that have differentiated us.  She executed the acquisition of our paper converting operation, and she made a key talent acquisition in our packaging division.  It's truly an honor for me to be able to carry on that legacy."

Moving forward has meant embracing change and innovation.  One of the keys has been keeping up with technology.  Lee remarked, "Every industry, including paper, has been challenged by the pace at which technology is changing -- both in how we serve our customers and received information, but also in the innovations being made in print technologies.  We're in a global economy with the ability to communicate and get information instantly.  The speed and capabilities in digital print technology especially allow designers and printers to showcase the value that paper has in conveying a message or promoting a brand.  Print is becoming an exciting, tangible differentiator in the marketplace."

One area where Lee has excelled at is the implementation of metrics-driven sales strategies.  "We just wrapped up our fiscal year," she said.  "Our biggest spend for the last three years has been technology.  Creating metric-driven dashboards that department managers are accountable for has been huge.  We have the capability with technology now to dive deep into data, and we are using it to look forward -- to be proactive, not reactive.  We've been making investments to enhance our service platform and internal report generation.  Hope is not a strategy.  Without data, you're just another person with an opinion."

But the paper industry is still largely personality- and relationship-driven business. Fortunately, in this regard, Lee has always considered herself a people person. "I love the people!" she exclaimed. "Not just my team at Anchor, but the customers that we have the opportunity to serve, as well as our great suppliers.  When you are a distributor, you're kind of the monkey in the middle.  In many ways, your suppliers are just as important as your customers.  I really appreciate being in that unique position of getting to know people and understand the business on both sides."

She continued, "When you're in the middle, though, you don't have control all of the time.  We're seeing this right now with it being a really tight market as it relates to uncoated paper.  I can't control the fact that we can't get paper due to things like mill closures or capacity being shifted from making uncoated free sheet to making board.  A big part of my job is working through unknowns."

But whenever Lee feels like she is getting too "lost in the weeds" as she refers to the "unknowns," she takes comfort in the tutelage of her mother and grandfather.  "My grandfather, who is still alive, made Anchor a strong supplier for fine paper," she stated.  "I am extremely fortunate to have had two really solid and different examples of leadership in my family and in the business.  I know it sounds cheesy, but we're all kind of a family at Anchor Paper.  This is a legacy for all of us."

Lee added, "It's really easy to get distracted and chase shiny, new things.  My grandpa always used to say, 'You have to focus on what you do well.  You can't be everything to everyone.'  And both he and my mother emphasized the need to love what you do.  'If you're not having fun, then you shouldn't be doing it.'  For both of them, paper was always a fun industry.  And while it's certainly wrought with its challenges, I still find it a fun industry to be a part of.  Balancing work and play is something I try, and often fail, to keep balanced.  When I'm reaching for my laptop toward the end of the weekend, I still hear my mother's voice chiding me, 'Don't let your Monday ruin your Sunday!'"

And being affiliated with the National Paper Trade Association has also helped Lee be a better leader.  She concluded, "A large component of what we work on through the association is education.  Helping print buyers understand paper and the value that a merchant can provide in exploring all of the different options that exist within that medium, is important.  It's a value that we need to continue to drive.  We are seeing a lot of new and young print buyers coming into the industry being decision-makers in their companies.  As manufacturers and distributors, we want to be able to demonstrate the power of paper.  Digital is certainly super-convenient, but paper has a lasting and differentiating value."

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