Eric Smith’s career path into the woodworking industry has been anything but by the numbers. After receiving his business degree in accounting, this true-blue Michigan man pursued a career as a public accounting auditor.
“Auditors spend lots of time in different businesses and different industries,” Smith says. “I ended up with several clients in Northern Michigan that were involved in the wood industry at several levels.
“I believe the broad exposure in many industries and many companies was a big part of my success.”
And successful it has been for Smith, who has been named a 2012 Wood Industry Market Leader by Wood & Wood Products magazine.
Although he did not originally envision a career path in the panel processing industry — and in fact once owned and operated a specialty sporting goods store — under his leadership as CEO and president, the Alpena, MI-based Panel Processing Inc. has grown to be the largest panel fabricator in the nation.
Panel Processing was founded in 1971 as a supplier of pegboard to the store fixture industry. With Smith at the helm, it has grown significantly in size and diversity, including acquisitions of Alabama Inter-Forest in 2004, Holland Panel Products in 2005, and Modular Wood Systems just last month.
“The geographic diversification of our company is a big part of our overall success,” Smith says. “My goal is to develop an additional location in the Northeast to better serve that market and expand our product offerings in all of our existing locations.”
With manufacturing capabilities including custom coating, printing and CNC machining of a wide variety of substrates, Panel Processing and its subsidiaries serve a variety of industries including: retail fixture, P.O.P. display, packaging, furniture, toy and game, digital print signage and cabinets. And as Panel Processing moves forward, its main challenge continues to be the economy, specifically “the slow pace of recovery in the housing industry and the significant reduction in retail development,” Smith says.
“We are responding to this with our traditional approach: expand our product offerings, invest in our capabilities and continue to penetrate new industries.”
Outside of work, Smith enjoys spending time outdoors at his farm, especially during the calving season. “I do some of my best thinking driving a tractor around my farm,” he adds.
• Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration/Accounting, University of Michigan
• Years at the company: 22
• Years in the industry: 22
• Word that best describes you: Persistent
• The person you have tried to emulate in business and why: I have met many great business people in my life and read numerous stories about others. Each person has strengths and weaknesses. My all-time great business person is John D. Rockefeller.
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