John Widera, Chairman of Santa Fe Springs based CalBox Group, has published his latest and most comprehensive book, “Competing with Corporate Sharks in a Crisis: Principles & Practices for Small and Midsize Businesses.”

Widera has published three previous books on the corrugated industry and this fourth one condenses the experience and knowledge acquired over more than five decades into a concise, entertaining and information-packed 200+ page volume that should be required reading for novices who have committed to a career in the industry as well as executives and owners of companies who have been in the industry for decades and think they have nothing left to learn.

Widera shares the lessons that have empowered him to build and lead, along with his son, Chris Widera, CEO & President of CalBox Group, a West Coast and Southwest box making conglomerate: California Box in Santa Fe Springs, California; California Box II in Rancho Cucamonga, California; CB Sheets in Santa Fe Springs, California; Tucson Container in Tucson, Arizona; Kino Packaging in Tucson, Arizona; Kino Foam and Crating in Tucson, Arizona; Arizona Corrugated in Mesa, Arizona; and West Texas Container in El Paso, Texas. He puts his money not where his mouth is but where it will provide the best return on his investments in box plants and more importantly, the people he employs, many of them for decades, in those plants.

As an annual contributor to BCN’s Converter Outlook, readers of Widera’s wisdom, insights and opinions will recognize his literary and authoritative voice as one worthy of hearing. The very first page invites his reader in humbly and gently: “This book is a quiet voice, barely audible in the clamor of relentless persuasion, urging you the reader to consider the real quality, relevance and longevity of ‘brain candy’ and things acquired over a lifetime.”

His preface says that he and his son “think like master carpet weavers, interlacing many business loose ends into a rich tapestry that improves karma and the exceptional VALUES of endless troves of products entrepreneurs provide.”

The success of CalBox Group and the “tapestry” it has woven makes it difficult to present a defensible argument to the contrary. Widera’s emphasis on the entrepreneurial spirit is indeed woven throughout the short yet compelling “chapters” as foundational to financial success in the corrugated industry and for that matter, any other industry.  

“Competing with Corporate Sharks in a Crisis” is divided into three major distinct sections – Principles, Management, and Best Practices – and each of the three is divided into several subsections (mini-lessons) covering the many facets of running a successful corrugated box business. Colorful and visually appealing, virtually every section contains visual imagery and illustrations that enlighten, educate and entertain the reader.

There is no way to give away too much of the book’s “guts” in this short article to render it unreadable, so a few “teasers” should serve to wet the thirsty palate.

On the topic of Entrepreneurs in the Tech Trenches (page 16), Widera expounds on the cliché, “In the future, you’ll only need a person and a dog to run a ‘lights out’ factory: the dog to make sure the slumbering person observes but doesn’t touch anything and that person to feed the savvy dog.”

On Collaboration Versus Competition (page 60), he opens with the line, “Competition is a lot like cod liver oil. First it makes you sick. Then it makes you better.” You’ll have to read the rest of the piece to understand that the future of “old guard” organizations depends on their ability to find a dazzling array of ways to compete. Adds John’s son Chris, “The CalBox Groups’ associates are focused on the future, but not a blind eye to ostensibly squashing competition of the past.”

On the topic of Pricing Decisions (page 84), Widera writes, “When the will of the price setter comes in conflict with imagination or perception, self-interest carries the day” and “In selling quality value-added items, using a bidding process based solely on the lowest price can lead to disappointment.”

And of course, Widera takes ample space to elaborate on one of his favorite topics, that being the relationship and existential competition among “corporate sharks” – the integrateds – and the minnows, the smaller “independent” fish. He identifies the ways in which big organizations have tried to achieve the “entrepreneurial equivalence of smallness” and concludes with the notion that this type of organization requires enormous tolerance, saying “Most of them behave as loosely coupled systems in which functional units often have little desire to integrate their activity with one another. Here, capitalism without a future bankruptcy is like a religion without hell.”

Widera shares the fact that his provocative book, “Competing with Corporate Sharks in a Crisis: Principles & Practices for Small and Midsize Businesses,” was completely rewritten and reorganized over a period of many years – the book is, in fact the 3rd edition – and includes the lessons learned and knowledge used to “survive the sharks” despite the economic turmoil created by the tsunami-like waves of the pandemic. From dealing with inflation to unstable employment to government action (or inaction), Widera’s timely and compelling contribution only reinforces CalBox Group’s culture of “On Time With Quality – No Excuses!” and will no doubt benefit entrepreneurial box makers new and old for a generation or two to come.

Suffice it to say that this curious entrepreneurial box maker and reader will want to have his or her highlighter handy as they navigate their way through Widera’s trove of teachings. An extensive Appendix is longer and more thorough than one might expect, but there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s simply adding a greater ROI, especially the last page of text, the one that reveals a 9-question interview with John W. Widera, Entrepreneur and Co-founder. He reveals his management style: “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” As for his hobbies, we discover that he likes sports, stamp collecting, antiques, travel and writing. Who knew?

For the answers to the remaining questions, including “What are your biggest threats to the corrugated box industry?” and “What was the best and worst advice you ever got?” you will have to get the book and read it for yourself.

For details on how to receive a copy of the book, contact Chris Widera at [email protected].

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