Packaging Talent

Packaging Talent

SYRACUSE MAGAZINE / CHRISTINE YACKEL

Growing up in the '60s, Andrew Berlin fantasized that one day he would become a brilliant litigator and modern-day Perry Mason. On target to reach his goal, he graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree in political science, earned a law degree from Loyola University Chicago, passed the Illinois bar, and landed a job with a law firm in his hometown of Chicago. But after nearly two years of practicing law, Berlin realized he still had a hankering to follow his father—a steel industry executive—into business and commerce. So when his father presented the idea of acquiring a troubled packaging company, Berlin jumped at the chance to join him and never looked back. "Our plan was to fix up this company and flip it, but we never got around to flipping it," he says. "After my father retired, I took over as chairman and CEO of Berlin Packaging and have been president of the company now for 24 years."

It wasn't Berlin's knowledge of the packaging business that led to his success. In fact, he initially knew next to nothing about plastic, glass, and metal containers. But he soon realized he had something even more valuable—a knack for recruiting and hiring people with the right talent. He says a résumé presents a candidate's skill set and shows experience, but it doesn't reveal such character traits as integrity, work ethic, ambition, or an insatiable desire to succeed. "For me, interviews are more of a conversation, which I call ‘situational interviewing," Berlin says. "I present candidates with stories and anecdotes and ask how they would go about solving the problem. I like to see their problem-solving skills and observe nuances about how they relate to people."

 

In business, good ideas are abundant, but what really matters is finding the right people to execute those ideas.
— Andrew Berlin

Reflecting on his SU experience, Berlin says he was particularly impressed with the wide variety of courses that offered him an opportunity to develop analytical and problem-solving skills, expand his intellectual knowledge, and hone his work ethic. And he fondly remembers history professor David Bennett as one of the great teachers in his life. "Professor Bennett was a talented teacher and mentor who really cared about his students — he was almost like a father figure to me," says Berlin, who serves on the Maxwell School Advisory Board and made a $500,000 endowment gift to the school in Bennett’s name upon his retirement last year. The Andrew Berlin Family National Security Research Fund will provide research and related support to Maxwell faculty members affiliated with the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism, a collaboration between Maxwell and the College of Law. "Professor Bennett stood out among the rest, and I thought my gift would be a great way to honor him," Berlin says. "I was happy to give back to SU — it just seemed like the right thing to do."    

Berlin has been able to apply the knowledge he gained in college, as president of Berlin Packaging, and as a limited partner in the Chicago White Sox, to his new role as chairman and sole owner of the South Bend Silver Hawks baseball team, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, which he acquired in January 2012. "It's a significant investment, but a lot of fun," Berlin says. “And if done right, it's a profitable enterprise. We made dramatic changes to the leadership team and it paid off really well. In our first year, attendance was up 68 percent— a proverbial home run."