Funding a women’s business enterprise to support diversity in the workplace
How Genesee Packaging evolved from a packaging supplier to thinking outside the box
When Jane Worthing started working at Genesee Packaging Inc. at age 18, just a few months after the company launched in 1979, she told her mom, “If you think I’m going to work here forever, you’re crazy.” Now, nearly 40 years later, Worthing is still at the company; in fact, she became president and CEO in 2015. Throughout her career, she’s watched the contract packaging provider evolve through market ups and downs.
Every shift taught her how to navigate constant change, with an enduring commitment to customers. By staying on top of customers’ changing needs and expanding to solve packaging problems in new markets, Genesee Packaging has diversified its products, services and focus over time to grow through good times and bad.
“We have a diversity policy, and we work to source with diverse suppliers and support diverse companies as much as possible.” —Jane Worthing, president and CEO, Genesee Packaging Inc.
Outside the box
Genesee Packaging started out as a “part-in-the-box” supplier for the automotive industry, mainly packaging parts. In the early 1980s, the company added a corrugated manufacturing operation and a packaging facility dedicated to steering components.
In the ’90s, the company purchased an offshore diving and packaging facility, which expanded its services to include diving equipment distribution to the federal government. Then in the late ’90s, Genesee Packaging built a new facility in Flint’s Renaissance Zone, where it offered supply chain management, warehousing, sequencing and direct shipment distribution of customers’ products.
Over time, the company evolved from simply putting products in a box to thinking outside the box, becoming a full-service solutions provider able to manage a customer’s entire supply chain.
“We do quite a bit of packaging product management,” Worthing says. “We manage the [customers’] suppliers, the quality of the product and schedule the inbound volume [of parts]. As they receive a truck full of various components from several suppliers, we determine what packaging those products need, and then we pick the product and load it in sequential order for [dealers or parts warehouses].”
Historically, Genesee Packaging has also provided light assembly for components such as radiator condensers, fuel modules and accelerator pedals – although the company isn’t currently doing assembly work. The service mix constantly evolves to fit the shifting customer base and its packaging needs. Worthing says the company’s flexibility and ability to problem solve have been key to its survival, particularly when its main customer base tanked.
Diversify to survive
In the late 2000s, Worthing estimates that 95 percent of the company’s business came from the automotive industry – “between 85 and 90 percent was with one particular customer,” she says. When the Great Recession hit automakers in 2008, Genesee Packaging lost significant business.
“When that happened, we did significant downsizing to survive while we searched for new opportunities,” Worthing says. “That drove more diversity in our market, in our customers, in our products.” Genesee Packaging adopted lean processes to streamline operations and reduce waste. From peak employment of more than 380 before the recession, Genesee downsized to fewer than 100 employees. (Today, it’s back up to 115).
“We learned a lot of lean lessons during that time,” Worthing says. “We had a lot of layers of management that weren’t really necessary, and not a lot of great controls in inventory. It really drove lean throughout the operation, both in headcount and in process.”
The company refocused on the government business it acquired in the ’90s and looked to other industries with complex packaging needs, such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, and electronics. Diversification strengthened Genesee Packaging against market swings, while expanding its customer base as a buffer.
“It’s always good to not have all of your proverbial eggs in one basket,” says Worthing, noting that today, the automotive market only comprises between 50 and 60 percent of Genesee Packaging’s business.
Positioned for growth
As the business grew beyond boxes, Genesee Packaging’s leaders wondered if the company’s name had become a limitation.
“Were we not seeing as many opportunities, or not being viewed as a company that could do a lot of different things, because of that word ‘packaging’?” Worthing says.
So to reflect its expanding diversity of services, the company secured a new name: The Genesee Group Inc., DBA Genesee Packaging Inc. There was no major rebranding or logo changes, Worthing says; both names are still used simultaneously – illustrating the company’s rich history and strong local reputation, while giving the brand room to grow into the future.
Ownership transitions can be complicated to execute successfully. When Jane Worthing took ownership of Genesee Packaging Inc. in 2015 to become president and CEO, Huntington’s support was critical to a smooth transition.
“Huntington’s flexibility and willingness to consider a nontypical financing structure, as part of the ownership change, was key for us,” Worthing says. “Just like we’re flexible in coming up with solutions for our customers, we see the same thing with Huntington.”
Huntington helped plan a five-year transition period for the previous owners to step back while Worthing gained ownership. The bank crafted a nontraditional financing arrangement to manage the buyout “in a way that benefitted the future of the company and the exit strategy of the previous owners,” Worthing says. Genesee Packaging is now recognized as a certified Women Business Enterprise (WBE). Working with a bank that promotes diversity and supports women-led organizations is important to Worthing, because it aligns with her company’s commitment to diversity.
“We have a diversity policy, and we work to source with diverse suppliers and support diverse companies as much as possible,” she says.
For more information, visit https://genpackaging.com.