The CleanMark Labels League of Extraordinary Procurement Pros

Born from Frustration and Friendship

Mike Martin, owner and chairman of CleanMark Labels was frustrated with his company’s lack of growth. They had state of the art facilities in the US, China, and Malaysia. He had worked hard to innovate and retool every aspect of his operations. His production performance was second to none. His financial performance was superior to his peers in the industry. His clients were happy since he had great pricing, great on-time performance and great quality. All the metrics looked fantastic. 

To do this he had been innovative and unconventional. He was willing to work out of the box. But one thing was still missing: growth remained elusive. Not only that, Mike was a little bored. He enjoyed solving label technology issues, but that aspect of his job was too infrequent. He knew that there had to be a way to grow his company AND have more fun doing it.

And at just the right time—things always seem to happen at ‘just the right time’—Mike reconnected with an old friend, Toby LaVigne. Toby had been working on the exact problem Mike was facing: “How do you grow your company (or your career) in a way that’s fun and sustainable for everyone involved?”

Toby’s approach blended marketing, sales, leadership, personal and professional development, and strategy all in one.  And although Toby was working primarily with CEO’s, it’s not just a CEO challenge. So many aspects of how we used to live and work are not working as well as they did just decades ago! We’re witnessing a transition into a new and different economy and procurement pros are in the center of the storm.

You see, the closer Mike looked at our market and customers, the more he began to empathize with what they were really going through day in and day out. Like most “vendors and suppliers” (Mike dislikes those words), Mike and his team were consumed with quoting, often to be the low bidder, then producing, shipping and waiting to be paid.

With all that work to do, it was easy to get caught up in their own little world and not really consider what it was like on the other side. But Mike found a way and did just that.What he learned amazed him and awoke his purpose.

Well, Mike and Toby had a lot of conversations, which ultimately led to three very big decisions.

First, Mike decided he wanted to serve his customers in ways far beyond just providing labels. His passion was to truly help the companies he worked with day in and day out. He knew to do this he had to redesign and retool every aspect of how he engaged with his clients.

Second, he wanted to break free from convention and his success had been built on being bold. He knew he had to lead by example and demonstrate the courage to innovate in how he engaged those with whom he did business. He decided that he had to exemplify the kind of change he wanted to see in the world.

And third, in order to realize this bold dream, he would need a bold leader by his side. He asked Toby to take on the role of CEO to help him with this audacious goal. Toby was up for the challenge and keen on helping Mike make a big difference in the world around him.

Now the real work began. As Mike and Toby considered how to take this dream to reality, they discussed all the conventional barriers to delighting customers and growing the business. They realized everyone in business struggled with these same challenges.

And that’s when the BIG IDEA emerged.

Procurement professionals have one of the most difficult jobs there is: in fact, it’s a lot like the job of a CEO. Did you know that Tim Cook (Apple), AG Lafley (P&G), Bali Padda (Lego), and Marry Barra (GM) all worked in procurement positions prior to becoming famous CEO’s? 

The truth is that Procurement Pros have to get up to speed on a wide variety of products and systems within their companies. They have to find, vet, and manage qualified partners. They have to find new ways to get what their company needs, when, and where they need it as efficiently as possible. They have to negotiate, present, sell, analyze, and more!

In the digital age, the impact that procurement professionals can have on an organization will only rise. The visibility across an organization, up and down the chain of command that procurement professionals have is a unique vantage point and a huge opportunity.  Mike figured that since we’re on a similar path of continuous improvement, we may as well share in that journey together.

And the CleanMark League of Extraordinary Procurement Pros was born.