Looking Back (And Ahead) With Paul Olson: On His First Year Leading ALPOLIC Americas
When Paul Olson took the reins as general manager for MCA-ALPOLIC, the MCM manufacturing company was in the midst of monumental change. Major transformations in the industry, company restructuring, and infrastructure projects presented Paul with a shifting kaleidoscope of challenges.
Nationally, the manufacturing and architectural construction industries were still navigating the disruptions caused by the pandemic and its aftermath strained under uncertainty. Supply chain instability led to shortages and delays. Raw materials, components, equipment, and labor all saw significant price increases and scarcity.
Internally, ALPOLIC shifted to unite under a regional banner of Mitsubishi Chemical America and while further delayering the global presence, the Mitsubishi Chemical Group. The goal: to enhance market presence, create more collaboration and synergies across businesses, and improve customer experience in an initiative called “Forging the Future.” Paul has led the charge to embrace these changes and meet new challenges, and looks forward to the advantages that will be felt by ALPOLIC staff and customers.
“I absolutely believe in the direction that we’re going.”
Undaunted and focused, Paul leveraged his extensive experience and leadership to not only weather the storm but close out a strong fiscal year and form a solid strategy for the future. “We have certainly done a lot of company building,” explained Paul. He cited the company’s $5 million infrastructure investment which included a 40,000 square-foot expansion of the production facility’s storage, shipping, and receiving capabilities as well as the construction of a new administration building.
Paul’s vision centers on transparency and growth built by utilizing technology. “We’ve grown tremendously in the last decade. Now it’s time to advance our processes. We’re going to use technology to streamline and improve our interaction with our customers,” he said. “It’s not enough to just provide the best product, we have to be easy to do business with in order to grow our business, and I believe technology will help us do just that.
“I bring the experience of production and manufacturing, and I bring my education with me as well for a business perspective.”
Born outside Boston, in Needham, Massachusetts, Paul grew up in North Carolina and attended NC State University where he earned a mechanical engineering degree. “I put myself through college, working full-time at Harris Teeter. So it took me six and a half years to get my bachelor’s degree.”
After college, Paul took a job in Augusta, Georgia with textile firm Milliken & Company. “When one of their plants burned down in Live Oak, I volunteered to go down to help. It was quite an opportunity to get to rebuild and redesign from the ground up.” After years in textiles, he needed a new challenge and joined ALPOLIC as the production manager.
“I’ve stayed with ALPOLIC because it’s like a family atmosphere. I feel like we can make a huge difference.”
True to form, over the last two decades at the Chesapeake, Virginia plant, Paul’s career has been marked by stepping up and taking on new roles. He held the position of marketing manager, engineering manager, technical director, and director of operations before becoming the general manager. “I wasn’t allowed to get bored,” Paul reflects. “I’ve had different roles within ALPOLIC, it has kept me challenged and kept me fresh within the company.” This experience has allowed him to get a holistic view of plant operations. Leveraging the company’s tuition reimbursement program, he’s also continued his academic career. Calling it a privilege, Paul’s been able to get his MBA with Old Dominion University and expects to graduate with a DBA from Liberty University next spring.
A proud father and husband, Paul and his wife Julie have made a success of their blended family over the last 13 years. With a son and daughter from previous marriages, the couple has also participated in a foster-to-adopt program which added a baby into the fold. “The experiences that I have dealt with personally allow me to be much more compassionate to others. Because everybody here has struggles in life. So as an organization, we have to recognize that we have to add some grace to all people because everybody’s human.”
“Relationships are the most important piece of being a leader.”
By nature, Paul is a task-driven, data-oriented person. He believes that data is a tool to ensure we’re running a transparent and ethical organization. But as he stepped into division leadership, he realized he had to step out of that task-driven mentality and focus more on strategy. “I like to know things, and I like to be involved, but I’ve got to be hands-off and let the team do their thing. I don’t want to be a stumbling block.”
Paul’s leadership style is based on a foundation of humility and respect for all people. “We’re all human beings and in this company, we all have a part to play. I’m no better than anyone else, I just have a different role.”
Building trust with his team is something that Paul thinks takes time. In addition to providing employees the freedom to do their job and giving them the tools to do it effectively, he keeps an open-door policy to listen to anyone’s concerns. He enjoys walking the plant just to shake people’s hands. “I want people to feel engaged, valued. I hope I bring a sense of fun. I want this to be a fun and productive place to work.”
“This is our roadmap. My job is to make sure we’re all moving in the right direction together.”
Initially, not everyone was on board with his leadership style. Those resistant to change didn’t like the direction Paul was taking. “They wanted the status quo. But it’s been great to see the evolution, where that same person will come back and agree we made the right move.” As he’s pushed technology and a need to streamline procedures, Paul’s been proud to see many have stepped up to lead that transformation and move the company forward. “It’s just awesome to see people embrace change.”
“Certainly, within this past year, I’ve challenged a lot of people in their thinking and the ways that we do business,” he adds. “We’ve got to evolve, to grow and that takes people out of their comfort zone. We’re going to embrace technology so we’re most efficient and most effective.”
“We recognize that we have to do things differently.”
ALPOLIC has a reputation for quality and customer service in the industry. At the plant, employees have built a culture of camaraderie and support. Many stay with the team for decades, a longevity that is practically unheard of in manufacturing. Paul wants to build on that legacy and move the company forward.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re easy to do business with.” Paul admits to some complacency as he looks back at how ALPOLIC’s run business. He wants customers to know that ALPOLIC recognizes where the company can do better, and makes those changes to improve how we support our partners.
“We’ll be asking for feedback throughout this change process to recalibrate and stay on the right path.”
Paul remarks, “We’re always going to pick up the phone.” ALPOLIC will continue to put a premium on that personal, small-business feel with the backing and resources of an international corporation. “We have to be a flexible organization. We are always looking for ways to improve our service and deliver the best value to our customers. That’s why we are investing in new technology that will enhance our sales process. But don’t worry, we are not losing sight of what makes us unique: our personal touch and our commitment to customer satisfaction.”
For his team, he hopes to give them more autonomy, flexibility, and recognition. Hosting team meetings and having open, regular communication to listen to their ideas and concerns is important. “It’s a balance, embracing technology without losing that personal touch. It’s a powerful tool, but not a substitution for human interaction.”
“Thank you for choosing us as your trusted partner.”
With so much uncertainty in the market and retooling within ALPOLIC, Paul wants all stakeholders to know he has a clear vision. He believes strongly that new strategies and technology will only help navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities for growth and transformation. “I can see where the company is gonna go. Our new strategy will help us serve you better, faster, and smarter. It will also empower our employees to work more collaboratively and with greater autonomy. We are excited about this change and we hope you are too.”
While he is not new to ALPOLIC, Paul knows he might be new to some of our customers and looks forward to meeting with them with a simple message, “We’re still ALPOLIC. We’re just getting better.”