As many of you know, scaling teams and enterprises to new heights and disrupting the status quo have always been major goals of mine.
My first big opportunity to meet these ambitious objectives took place in 1988, when I left a career as a lawyer for a large, international law firm to forge a new path as the Chairman, CEO, and co-owner of a then floundering packaging business in my hometown of Chicago.
Alco Packaging, (later renamed Berlin Packaging), was losing money. But I felt that an infusion of strong business principles and innovation could change its downward trajectory. So, after a half a million cash infusion and an $11.5 million loan, we were off to the races.
More than three decades later, Berlin Packaging is best in class in earnings, has created thousands of jobs here in the US and around the world, and has a company culture ingrained with strong moral and business values. Early on in my tenure, I also made it a goal of mine to make Berlin Packaging a place that employees would enjoy coming to work, day in and day out; that’s why I am especially proud of the fact that employee retention surged from 50% back in 1988 to 94% today.
On the business side, my team and I reshaped every function in the company which resulted in achieving 33 years in a row of record sales and earnings. Today, Berlin Packaging has become the largest packaging supplier of its kind in the world, with a multibillion-dollar value. My confidence remains high for its future; that’s why to this day, I remain its largest, individual shareholder.
As I reflect upon my time leading the company (1988-2019), my fondest memories will always be working with an amazing group of teammates. Through innovative recruiting, world class skill development, training, and a commitment to retain and preserve intellectual assets like wisdom and experience, we created a culture that continues to propel the company forward – a culture committed to operational excellence where everyone loves to thrill our customers time-after-time.
Over a year ago, as I began planning for my journey post Berlin Packaging, I knew I wanted to keep my long-held focus on helping companies grow as well as disrupting the status quo. But in addition to these goals, I also became resolute in only considering opportunities which would enable me to provide a positive contribution to my country.
The original idea, post Berlin Packaging, was to enjoy more baseball. I had invested in the Chicago Cubs as one of its new owners in 2015 while four years earlier, I became the owner of its minor league affiliate, the South Bend Cubs. Though enjoyable, baseball wasn’t enough. I wanted to be part of a company where I could use the principles of leadership and the lessons I learned — to grow another business in which I was heavily involved and invested. My personal website details those principles and lessons at www.AndrewBerlin.com.
This is how I came across Shield AI.
A good friend of mine, a former Navy SEAL, retired three-star Vice Admiral of the US Navy and now the CEO of one of the largest aviation conglomerates supporting the military today, told me over a year ago about Shield AI. I was struck by both the simplicity and focus of its corporate mission – to use the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help protect the lives of military personnel and civilians in conflict zones.
Many of Shield’s employees, including one of its cofounders, are proud veterans who know all too well what taking a “risk” really entails. To them and now to me, AI means reducing risk while still being able to effectively protect our vital national security interests.
To be more specific, Shield AI builds self-driving technology that enables swarms of unmanned systems to operate on the edge without GPS, communications, or remote pilots. Further, by applying reinforcement learning to scalable simulations, Shield AI trains unmanned systems to learn new tactics and behaviors to autonomously accomplish new missions ranging from clearance operations with small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAV) to breaching integrated air defense systems with increasingly larger UAS. Backed by top-tier Silicon Valley VC funds, Shield AI is differentiated by its fielded, combat-proven AI-products and its world-class AI engineering team. Shield AI is one of the largest industry sponsors of Carnegie Mellon University’s Resilient Intelligent Systems Lab. In 2020, Shield AI was named to the Forbes AI 50, CB Insights Top 100 AI Companies, and Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
Shield AI is something different; it is a multifaceted software and hardware company with a noble mission. Shield AI protects lives.
The company’s mission focused mindset coupled with a leadership team with very strong values, made me realize that I wanted to join their team. And I felt that my experience and skillset could prove valuable as the company continued its rapid growth trajectory.
As Shield AI’s Managing Director, I am responsible for ensuring that the company meets a series of ambitious short-term and longer-term business goals and objectives. One of them is obviously advancing overall growth of the company, not only in financial terms, but in terms of its technological impact, across all aspects of society and industries.
A well lived life is full of family, friends, experiences, and adventures. In Shield AI, I am confident that I have found a company that will contribute to that richness and also satisfy my strong desire to support the country I love.