Education: Ohio Northern University, bachelor of arts degree in business. “I was the first one in my family to go to college ... I got a basketball scholarship.”
First job: Working on the line at a General Motors plant in the summertime. It was interesting. I had to join the union. At that time, I was making $3.50 an hour, and it cost me $50 to join the union and I was so mad. That was a week’s salary.
I worked 3:30 to 11 p.m., and after about the second week of work, a couple of the older guys pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re going to have to slow down. You’re going to get in trouble. You’re making us look bad. We don’t work that hard here, and you need to slow down or you’re not going to be coming back here.’ So I finished the summer and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life.’
What is the greatest business challenge you’ve faced?
Starting the Greif Transformation Initiative was by far the biggest. Knowing that that was going to be such an all-encompassing review and we were effectively going to break a lot of what we did to try to make it better.
The risk was not whether we could do it but how the people would accept it. I believed in the process and I believed it was the right thing to do, but I didn’t know how people would accept it. Would we have a total mutiny? We were going to affect people’s lives, so that was a challenge.
What is the most important business lesson you’ve learned?
To surround yourself with good people. I think that’s the key to success or at least my success. Understand that you don’t have to know all the answers and you won’t know all the answers and you don’t have to be the smartest person and you’re not the smartest person.
But if you surround yourself with good people, you are giving yourself and your company a much better chance of being successful. And surrounded by good people does not mean ‘yes’ people. If I surround myself with a lot of good people and they always say, ‘Yes, you’re right, Mike,’ we’re never going to go very far because we’re only going to go as far as I can see.
By surrounding yourself with people that can challenge you, you have a better chance of being successful. So try to find people who are very smart, who are very dedicated, who are not afraid to speak their minds. And,when we walk out of this room, everyone is on the same page. That is critical.
If we can do that, we’re going to be successful.