20110831-ABIZcover-0107Mary Ellen Henry
Mixing work and pleasure is in the bag.

When she was in college, Mary Ellen Henry imagined she would be successful, but running an industrial packaging company was not even in her periphery. Now the CEO of JohnPac Inc., Henry walks the fine line daily of embodying both the role of a boss and a friend to her co-workers and to the community.

“I can still have fun, but if there’s a problem with someone on the team — if I have to terminate someone due to a lack of performance — it’s just business. I’m very good at having to compartmentalize what’s fun and what’s work,” she says. “I think it’s very unique for a leader to have fun with her people and also hold them accountable… It’s not always pretty.”

Peter John, co-owner of JohnPac, agrees.

“She has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to create spirited work environments while being able to make tough business decisions and take action where others won’t,” he says.

A Tennessee native, Henry attributes her success to her family and upbringing, describing her mother as a “trailblazer” and her father as “her hero.” She came to JohnPac from Storsack, now Greif, the world’s largest industrial bulk bag company, where she served as vice president of sales and marketing for North America. Once she came to JohnPac in 2006, named Louisiana Bag Company at the time, she immediately laid out goals and visions for the company, one of which was changing its name.

As a national operation, Louisiana Bag Co. needed re-naming and re-branding because its name stifled its national image, Henry says. While Peter and his brother, co-owner David, were on board from the beginning, Henry says she met some opposition to the name change from staff because of the company’s long withstanding culture, but once she explained the need for re-branding, the whole company came on board.

Her role now is devising strategies and goals for the company, along with dabbling in sales, marketing, financial security, hiring, quality, safety and boosting company morale. Henry has a plethora of leadership training, which she says is great to fall back on when she is unsure how to approach a situation or employee.

“I’m a big cheerleader for the 120 coworkers that we have,” she laughs.

Henry says she hopes under her direction, JohnPac will quickly grow to $100 million through organic sales growth and acquiring companies while hiring top-notch employees. As a passionate person, she says she wants to hire other people with that same passion who can complement her and the company in every area. She says she is not threatened by hiring someone who has aptitudes in areas where she does not — it challenges her and makes her better.

Working at JohnPac is a long-term opportunity, Henry says, and she hopes her hard work, enthusiasm and open-mindedness will surge JohnPac into the future as an even more competitive business. — Andrea Gallo

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