It’s All About the Sizzle

FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Harry Voss

by Amy Bauer

Foil & Specialty Effects Association

Diamond Packaging celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, and for 42 of those years, Harry Voss was the force propelling the company forward. As president and CEO of the Rochester, NY packager, the now-retired Voss established Diamond as an internationally recognized leader in the industry through a strong emphasis on employees and by identifying and developing leading-edge designs, technologies and services.

Voss’ technical school partnership to develop talented employees and his founding of a global network of packagers to meet customers’ needs stand out as examples of his creativity and tenacity. He also shared generously of his time with industry associations, serving as chairman of the National Paperbox Association and as a director for the Paperboard Packaging Council.

He recognized foil stamping and specialty decorating – “the sizzle,” as he calls them – as a key to securing Diamond’s high-end clients with specialized needs, as opposed to simply commodity packaging. The Diamond Packaging calendar, an annual marketing tool, became known industry-wide for its creative and intricate use of such special effects.

The Foil & Specialty Effects Association is proud to honor Harry Voss with the 2012 FSEA Lifetime Achievement Award for his commitment and contributions to the growth of foil stamping, embossing and other specialty processes within the packaging industry; for his leading role in creating the Global Packaging Alliance and for his strong belief in corporate citizenship and community involvement – helping to bridge the gap between education and the ‘real world’ through internship and co-op programs.

Business beginnings

Voss grew up in his family’s business and credits his stepfather with instilling a service-oriented philosophy. “He always used to say, ‘Satisfy the customer and make sure he comes back tomorrow,’ ” Voss said. The family, which had immigrated to New York City in the 1930s from Germany, owned a resort in a German-American community in the Catskills, where Voss began helping out at a young age.

Voss attended Clarkson College of Technology, today Clarkson University, in Potsdam, NY, and earned a degree in industrial management in 1959. He then entered the Marine Corps, where he spent three years and was an infantry commanding officer. He emerged armed with lessons in leadership but in search of a trade.

After weighing several industries, he became interested in the paper industry and took a job as a salesman for the Oxford Paper Company. At the same time, he attended the Manhattan School of Printing in New York City. In 1965, he met the owner of Diamond Packaging and was offered a chance to join the business. At the time, the company was operating in a 20,000-square-foot building, had seven employees and annual sales of $234,000.

The company was founded in 1911 and initially supplied folding cartons to the garment and bakery industries. Today, Diamond Packaging manufactures paperboard and plastic packaging and provides contract packaging services for Fortune 500 companies worldwide, in industries including cosmetics, health care, personal care, pharmaceutical, software and food.

In 1973, Voss bought controlling interest in the company, which had grown to 13 employees and $750,000 in sales. Five years later, in 1978, Diamond had grown to 23 employees and moved to its current 90,000-square-foot facility in Rochester. Within the first year in the new building, the company’s sales exceeded $1.8 million. Today, the company has more than 230 employees. Its 2002 sales were $40 million.

Building a reputation

“Product launches were one of our real strengths,” Voss said, describing a project for the Polaroid Corp. that cemented the company’s reputation for confidentiality. Diamond Packaging had been working on other projects for Polaroid when the company approached Diamond in the mid-1980s about developing packaging for a new roll film product, not the company’s iconic single-use film.

The project, started in December, lasted through the product launch on April 15. Voss said his company realized that any scrap paper leaving the company would be recognized by competitors at the paper mills, so a solution was devised. “We had over 40 tractor-trailer trucks parked in the parking lot. No room for the employees to park, but we didn’t let a piece of scrap go out until April 16,” Voss said.

Executives of Kodak, with its headquarters in Rochester, were bowled over that a competitors’ product had been launched virtually under their noses, Voss said. “They called us up. They said, ‘If you can do that, we want you to do all of our launches’. ” Kodak had its own box plant, Voss said, but came to Diamond Packaging for product launches. This specialized work was just what Voss was targeting.

According to Voss, he was more interested in working with customers that were marketing-driven, those that were interested in special effects, such as foil and high-quality coatings. “I always thought that’s where we should be going,” he said. He estimated that such companies made up only about 15 percent of the marketplace.

Self-promotional marketing pieces such as Diamond’s annual calendar gave the company an opportunity to highlight to clients and prospects its capabilities in packaging decoration, such as stamping, embossing, matte and UV coating, intricate diecutting and the integration and conversion of plastics.

Voss was strategic in his partnerships with clients. “I always evaluated my customer base,” Voss said. He recognized that different businesses represented different stages of the life cycle, from embryonic to dying. “You wanted to make sure you were on the adolescent side,” Voss said, noting that those companies generally were enthusiastic about innovation. “You didn’t want to be on the aging side. Those businesses often were more interested in cost-cutting.”

“I actually ended up firing customers that we no longer wanted to do business with,” he said, which was difficult when friendships were involved. “But we saw where they were going and didn’t want to go in that direction.”

Expanding globally

Among the accomplishments for which Voss is most proud is the creation of the Global Packaging Alliance, which had its seed in a 1989 partnership between Diamond Packaging and Berlin-based Leunisman GmbH, both of which were producing folding cartons for The Gillette Company.

Formed in 1997 as the North Atlantic Packaging Alliance, it grew to include members in other countries and took on the Global Packaging Alliance label. Bringing together independent packaging companies from across the world, the alliance offers companies consistent quality for products launching globally. Today, its members also represent Mexico, Australia, Brazil, India, South Africa, Russia and Hong Kong. “Larger companies, such as Gillette, L’Oreal and others of that type were reluctant to do business with one-location companies,” Voss said. “We called it one manufacturing facility with various locations in the world.”

Fulfilling the principles his stepfather had taught, to give the customer what they want when they want it, Voss said the alliance drastically reduced the time between a product’s unveiling in the United States and abroad. When creating packaging for the Gillette Mach3 razor, it was one month between the product’s launch in the US and in Germany, Voss said. Six years later, when working on a Venus razor project for Gillette, the unveilings were within 24 hours of each other. “It was quite a winning point as far as Gillette was concerned,” Voss said. “It was kind of fun. I loved it.”

“The use of stamping and special effects and foils and coatings was really the thing that excited our customer base,” Voss said, “because it really made their products stand out on the shelf compared to anyone else. It was the glitz; it was the sizzle.”

Valuing education

Voss’s creativity also was evident when he looked to the Rochester Institute of Technology in the 1970s to help fill Diamond Packaging’s ranks during a time of rapid growth. Both internships and co-op programs allowed Diamond to establish trial relationships with potential employees before hiring them on a full-time basis. The first student-turned-employee worked part-time in Diamond’s accounting department on a co-op basis and later was hired as controller, spending the next 12 years with the company. “One of my favorite things was mixing academia with industry and government,” Voss said. “I always thought if we three factions worked together, we could do so much more.”

He recalled an industrial management professor when he attended Clarkson who didn’t know the difference between a skid and a pallet. This inspired Voss to share hands-on knowledge with teachers and students. “We want to make sure teachers know what they’re talking about, not just something they’ve read in a book,” Voss said, noting that even high school teachers would work at Diamond in the summers.

Voss was an advisor to the College of Applied Science and Technology at RIT and also spent time as an executive in residence at Clarkson and at St. Bonaventure University, in St. Bonaventure, N.Y., where one of his daughters, Lisa, had graduated.

Not only did he benefit in gaining employees, Voss said, but many students went on to work for other companies in the supply chain, would remember Diamond Packaging and later become customers. “You give, but you get, and I really found that rewarding,” Voss said.

Family business

All four of Voss’ children ended up in the family business after college, and in 2004 they bought the company from Voss as part of a succession plan prior to his 2007 retirement. In 2007, daughters Karla Fichter and Kirsten Werner bought out siblings Eric Voss and Lisa Palvino. Today, Fichter serves as chief executive officer and Werner as president.

Voss is proud of maintaining the family-owned business through times of industry consolidation and notes with satisfaction the longevity of many employees. Several exceeded his 42 years, marking 48 and 50 years of service. “I feel very obligated to my employees,” he said. “I had a moral obligation not only to my 300 employees, but to 300 families.”

“I think one of the most satisfying things was to know that you’ve done something for the community in the form of working for the students, but also in working with the employees – giving them a good steady occupation, giving them training so they could improve and giving them the stability of a strong company without the fear of layoffs,” Voss said. “That was very rewarding, as well as seeing the loyalty of those employees back to you.”

Today, Voss said he has fully embraced retirement and is enjoying spending time in leisure pursuits, such as his beloved sailing. He won the world championship in 8-meter sailboats in 1985 and has raced in many regattas in Europe and North America. He and his wife, Cathy, split their time between Key Largo, FL, and Canandaigua Lake, NY.

Finishing matters

“A lot of purchasing people think of packaging as commodity. It’s anything but,” Voss emphasized. “The contents are the commodity – the toothpaste, the razor blade.” He continued, “When a customer walks down the store aisle and a product follows him like it’s got eyes, that’s what gets the customer’s eye. It’s the sizzle.”

He continues to watch the industry and said that companies must be nimble and prepared to keep adding that sizzle in new and different ways for customers. “Maybe it’s something coming up on the horizon, and you have to be there first, or someone else will,” he said.

His time at Diamond was spent investing in technology and always staying on the lookout for those companies that needed products to hit the market faster than others without price being solely the object. “I think that when executives are able to look that way and lead their companies that way, our industry will survive,” he said.

And ultimately, for Voss, one of his greatest points of pride has been having satisfied customers: “It’s not making money so much as that satisfaction. If you’re doing the job right, the money will come along.”