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Pung Speaker Series: Fostering a global mindset for students

By Taylor Hindman, student writer
Monday, March 25, 2024

The 2024 Roy S. Pung Executive Speaker Series continued with a look into consumer packaging, largely within the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The latest event featured Joseph Yost (B.A. Finance ’89), executive vice president and president of International, a business unit of Graphic Packaging Holding Company.

GPI is a manufacturing company that specializes in paper production, transforming the paper into cardboard packaging solutions. As a $10 billion company, GPI distinguishes itself with 95% of its sales stemming from recyclable products, while maintaining a global presence with over 100 packaging plants spanning 27 countries.

With nearly 35 years of experience in the packaging industry, Yost traveled from Brussels, Belgium, to his alma mater to actively engage with students through the Pung Speaker Series. He discussed executive life overseas and gave valuable advice for aspiring students, drawing from his extensive experience and insights.

Throughout Yost’s career, he relocated eight times, but the unexpected transition from the United States to Belgium presented him with unique business challenges.

“I didn’t have any international experience, so I went in with the mindset that I don’t really know anything, but I know about the packaging business,” he said. “It’s OK if you don’t know much; that’s how you learn, and I think that is important in life — and certainly when you are going into a foreign country for the first time.”

Engaging the class full of students, Yost described working in the United States as more high volume–oriented, with GPI’s specialization in crafting essential consumer items such as cereal boxes, beverage packaging, paper cups and bowls. While in Europe, GPI strategically concentrates on a more diversified portfolio including pharmaceutical packaging, encompassing both over-the-counter and prescription products.

The switch to the European markets was eye-opening for Yost, who compared the experience to navigating “two different worlds.” Amid his international experience at GPI, one of the biggest challenges Yost encountered was the conversion of currency within a GPI-operated plant in Nigeria. The Nigerian currency, naira, poses the challenge of being severely limited in its ability to convert into hard currencies. This results in a substantial amount of naira that can’t be utilized to buy raw materials. Yost was tasked with resolving this issue by exporting more products from Nigeria that could be sold in euros or dollars.

“You really have to just listen and learn,” he said. “Once you do the listening and start to understand, then you can take your experience and start to make decisions. The key thing for me was making sure I understood the situation first before I acted.”

Pivotal moments such as this challenged Yost to dive deeper into his international perspective and fortify his leadership. He shared multiple lessons from this experience for students to keep in mind as they become business leaders:

  • Listen and learn. Despite your experience and knowledge, don’t assume you know everything (or anything).
  • There is no such thing as a “European.” Each country has its own distinct culture, language and subcultures. You must embrace these changes.
  • Integrate. If you don’t speak the foreign language, learn it. When speaking English, speak slowly.

During Yost’s free time, he enjoys spending time with his two children and being active outdoors by skiing, hiking and boating.

More information on the upcoming 2023–24 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available via the Full-Time MBA program.

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