A Book Review by Jim Curley
8/6/13 131.62 A Book Review Ver 1
A Book Review of 1st Edition:
Reflecting On A Career And An Industry
By Jim Curley
Like the fictional Ishmael of Moby Dick, John Widera, CEO of Cal Box, has gone out to sea hunting whales. In his new Book, Swimming With The Paper Whales, Widera’s weapon is not the harpoon, but the microscope. With a keen analytical mind, Widera studies close - up not only the whales (the paper mills owned by the major integrateds), but also the dolphins (the smaller mills and larger independents), the sharks (equity funds buying into the industry) and other denizens of the corrugated industry as they encounter turbulent seas of a global economy. Though he has no harpoon, the boxmaker has sharp opinions.
For example, Widera is no believer in sheet plants without tie - in to corrugators. They may find themselves vulnerable to a price squeeze and quality issues when board gets tight, he contends. He also tackles issues such as brokers/distributors in the industry, a particularly thorny topic in his home state of California.
Widera’s newest book (He published On Time, With Quality, No Excuses several years ago.) includes several articles that first appeared in some form in Board Covering News. In this new book, Widera studies not only the corrugated industry, but also the manufacturers it serves and the global economy in which domestic and multi - national manufacturers compete.
A veteran of four decades as an independent boxmaker in the industry, Widera has built a network of corrugator and sheet plants employing 400 people in three Western states. He has done so through careful study, bold decision making and wise investment in technology.
The 160 page account of Widera’s life and career journeys combines homespun aphorisms and brass - tacks economic analysis from someone who has lobored in an industry in which the word “survivor” is hardly a pejorative. I suspect Widera would also like the word “student” applied to him.
The book is enhanced by some lively, sometimes whimsical, graphics. As he writes about his recent trip to China, Widera includes a graphic of a pensive panda atop the Empire State Building surrounded by buzzing helicopters.
The chapter on China was most interesting to me. Widera examines both China and Taiwan and concludes “The days of little international competition based on reputation and strong dollar currency are over.
“This doesn’t mean that America is destined to become the world’s second - largest industrial power. But what it does mean is that Americans had better get serious about putting our political and economic house in order.” In the light of current events, one can only say “Amen, Brother.”