By Andrew Cave
Since buying Alco Packaging with his father in 1988 at the age of 27 and re-titling it under the family name, Andrew Berlin has grown the firm’s sales from $69 million to $1 billion.
More recently, the Chicago businessman sold his shares in the city’s White Sox baseball team, and in February 2015 he became a minority investor alongside majority owners the Ricketts family in the Chicago Cubs, which this year reached the World Series for the first time since 1945
Are the upward trends at the two organizations connected? Berlin, who also owns the South Bend Cubs minor league baseball team, certainly believes so.
I recently conducted an interview with him in which he was adamant that the development of his family company and the recent success of the Cubs are based on the ethos of building profits by putting people first.
Berlin is chairman and chief executive of Berlin Packaging, which supplies plastic, glass and metal containers and closures and is majority-owned by private equity firm Oak Hill Capital Partners.
“The principles that we use in business and in sports are very much the same,” he says. “I was 27 when we led the leveraged buyout. It was a troubled company at the time and it was a rocky start, given that I did not have a lot of experience in business. My father had a steel business but neither of us knew much about packaging.
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“Right from the start, we focused a great deal on recruiting leaders and people who would make a difference.
“We became expert recruiters and focused a lot on human resources recruiting, training, skills development and the retention of the stars in our company.
“We laid very specific plans in those areas and the company started to build. We’re now looking at our 29th record year of sales and earnings and the company has a value of more than $2 billion.
“We’re in an industry that grows about 2% a year a year at best and we’ve outpaced that. We have a compound average revenue growth rate of 26% over the last ten years so we’re building something that’s very sustainable and powerful.”
Investing In Baseball
Berlin believes the Cubs are doing something similar. He’s been involved in major league baseball since 2007 when he invested in the Chicago White Sox.
Seven years later in 2014 he left the White Sox and in February 2015 he rolled all his investment there into the Chicago Cubs.
On the club’s board of advisers in addition to being a large minority investor, he says he has noticed similarities to the way it and his packaging business are run.