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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Charles Berolzheimer, CEO of California Cedar Products Company Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

Charles Berolzheimer

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An enthusiast of arts and natural history learning, Charles Berolzheimer has a passion for integrating his commitment to nature, the arts, sciences and conservation into business and non-profit environments. A third generation CEO of family-held California Cedar Products Company, the world’s leading producer of sustainably managed woods to the pencil industry, and a 6th generation family participant in the world pencil industry, he has 30 years’ experience working throughout the wood products and pencil manufacturing value chain innovating and adapting to a challenging global market place. CalCedar’s wooden pencil slat customers include most of the world’s leading pencil manufacturer’s writing and art product brands as well as producers of the all the top cosmetics brands for lip, eyeliner and make-up pencils.

Charles has been a leader in making third party certified wood supply available to the pencil industry and introduced the world’s first FSC certified pencil brand, ForestChoice. He also created the company’s Palomino family of pencil, stationery and art supply brands and leads development and distribution of e-commerce sales and educational and entertainment content via the company’s online channels, and Studio602. In 2010 he reintroduced the iconic Blackwing pencil to the market, reviving a historically famous brand beloved by artists, animators, writers and musicians to support a new generation of creative expression. Palomino Brands is currently focused on building awareness through innovative events such as Blackwing Experience and Blackwing Sessions while establishing national and international distribution of its premium quality products to important dealers in the stationery, art supply, gift, music and other unique lifestyle retail channels.

Charles also serves as a board member and consultant to Duraflame, Inc., the leading producer of bio-fuel based, clean burning consumer hearth and cooking products. Duraflame firelogs were originally invented and introduced by California Cedar Products Company to utilize wood waste from its pencil slat production and create a product that burns more cleanly than firewood. Now run as an independent company Charles’ role focuses on strategic business development and governance support, and the company continues to innovate in developing unique, category leading environmentally friendly products. 

An enthusiastic hiker and fly fisherman Charles worked summers as a youth at Little St. Simons Island, Georgia, and later managed the early development of the island’s eco-tourism Lodge and its education and conservation programs. From this experience and other influences he developed a deep interest in natural history. He is a new board member of The Catesby Commemorative Trust which has the mission of educating society on the achievements, knowledge and conservation values introduced by 16th-18th century naturalists, explorers, scientists and artists such as Mark Catesby.

He and his wife Ginger are Co-founders of the Blackwing Foundation which is dedicated to improving student engagement in arts and music at the K-12 level. The organization’s current focus is on building strong partnerships with best of class programs and to make these available on a sustainable basis to a growing number of schools and students. Charles also serves as advisory board member to both the Eberhardt School of Business and the Athletic Department of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA., where his two sons attended as student-athletes. He is a past Trustee of The Cate School in Carpinteria, CA. 

A frustrated writer, as time permits Charles maintains a personal blog, Timberlines, focused on his interests and activities related to the pencil industry, conservation, natural history and the arts. One of his aspirations is to write a natural history of Little St. Simons Island and other Southeast barrier islands.

Charles received his Masters at Stanford University GSB, as a Sloan Fellow, and his B.A. in Management Science at University of California, San Diego. He and his wife Ginger reside in Northern California. We are absolutely thrilled to present Charles Berolzheimer as our latest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed Charles for Whom You Know.  We write in the color closest to pencil (available to us typing) for this interview in his honor.

Peachy Deegan: How did other members of your family involved with your family business influence you as you grew up?
Charles Berolzheimer: 
My grandfather Charles was a scientist and really drove the technical development of our business; he always stressed the importance of having a deep technical understanding of the materials, tools and processes and continuously improving them to make a superior product. He also always showed a genuine personal interest in employees, customers and really everyone he met. He worked daily in the business until his health failed in his early 90s and he always had high expectations of his children and grand-children both in business and in their personal lives and relations with others. My father Phil is very detail-oriented, strong in implementation, and he always worked hard doing what it took to get the job done and stressed how important financial strength is to sustaining the business over the long term. But he also plays hard, he’s a really fun guy, and has always stressed how important it is to love what you do and create a fun work environment. As Chairman, since I succeeded him as President, he’s proven to be a good coach allowing me plenty of freedom to lead the company as I see fit, but is there to offer his advice and council as needed. My uncle Michael was the most entrepreneurial and strategically minded getting the companies into several new products and businesses in his area of leadership, including Duraflame firelogs and other non-pencil related wood products. I’ve had more tendency towards the entrepreneurial and strategic arenas and have been involved in leading a lot of new product and business initiatives over the years as well, though I’ve found that maintaining a good balance of all these important qualities is important for success in sustaining and renewing the business. 

What do you want the world to remember about each of them and why?
They didn’t always get along or agree on stylistic management issues or the strategic direction the businesses should take and ultimately after my grandfather passed away the family worked through some difficult management and ownership succession planning issues as the businesses faced some pretty difficult competitive challenges. Michael and his family are no longer partners in the businesses. However, throughout the period from the 1960’s through the 1990’s when they were all actively engaged together in the business they were always in agreement about their personal commitment to the business, the importance of employees and our customers and to being the market leader whatever the business we were involved with. Each brought their unique skills and experiences and contributed tremendously to the long success of the businesses.

We love family businesses and have covered many. What makes family businesses special?
I think it’s the personal connection to the history of the business that family members and multi-generation employees have, combined with the fact that family businesses tend to have a strong set of cover values including the contribution the business and family can make to society and to their communities if the company does well. The profit motivation alone is not the main driving factor as with public companies. Instead the profit flows from the commitment to excellence, strong cultures and cross-generational market knowledge that ultimately allows the family and employees to fulfill social goals as well. I’m certainly proud that I’m a member of the 6th generation of our family involved in the pencil industry, though I’m more proud that for over 160 years we’ve helped make the pencil the most ubiquitous writing and drawing implement on the planet allowing more people to express themselves on paper than any other form.

What is your first pencil memory?
Receiving my first personalized pencils with my name on them in a Christmas stocking.

Pencils are a status symbol as we remember in elementary school. You must have been the kid in school with the coolest pencils?
One of my dad’s jobs in the company was as Sales Manager for pencil slats. He’d travel all over the world visiting the different pencil factories and always seemed to come home with a handful of cool samples. I always liked the Japanese pencils especially as they were the first to start decorating their pencils with fancy designs and characters. I had the same opportunity to do that for my boys as well.

What should adults know about how great pencils can be in their lives?
A pencil like any writing or drawing instrument is a tool. The quality of the tool has a directly proportionate relationship on the quality of the writing or drawing experience. Unfortunately, many young adults today have been raised following 20+ years of mass globalization and commoditization of the pencil through retailers’ quest for ever lower prices. This has coincided with lower quality product, poorer perception of the pencil writing experience and sometimes even less safe or environmentally sound products crowding out higher quality items on most large retailer shelves. Teachers and schools on tight budgets often complain to us about the general decline in pencil quality and the impact and disruptions that causes in class to the learning environment when they buy the cheapest pencil they can find thinking there is not a difference. Historically, the yellow lacquer on the pencil was a symbol of the use of high quality Asian graphite, today it’s generally perceived as a low value commodity item. However, when you put a high quality pencil that writes dark and smoothly, sharpens and erases well, and doesn’t break whether it’s a Palomino Blackwing or any other premium product the difference is noticeable immediately and much more pleasurable. A great pencil can feel every bit as buttery smooth while writing as the best fountain or roller gel pen. Even the experience of sharpening and smelling the shavings of a genuine Incense-cedar pencil brings a great satisfaction to many, but again using a quality sharpener is just as important as using a good quality pencil to enhance that experience.

How do you define luxury pencil?
I think it’s a function of having the right combination of distinctive design, top lacquer finish and imprint quality along with great performance in the laydown of the graphite onto paper and very importantly also is the feel of the pencil in your hand as you write. Does it look and feel luxurious? I think there are other great options beyond our Palomino and Blackwing pencil models and your own taste, hand size and writing style will dictate what you think feels and looks luxurious. What’s really important is that a luxury pencil is really what I’d call an affordable luxury that offers high value for the money spent. It’s all a matter of perspective. We often think nothing of paying $3-$5 for a top quality latte, but somehow at $1.50 to $3.00 for a luxury pencil or $20/dozen when people have been trained to buy a dozen for a $1-2 people think that’s expensive. The silly thing is that latte is cold and undrinkable in 20 minutes, and the caffeine impact wears off while the creative enjoyment just from using one pencil can last hours or days depending upon your usage.

How do you become a world leader in an industry and what do brands have a responsibility to do when they hold such an esteemed position?
Generally through regular innovation and dedication to providing best in class products and services that continue to solve real problems for the customers. Our responsibility is to advocate for the positive benefits to society of our industry and to provide leadership to see that our company’s and the industry as a whole are good corporate citizens with respect to social and environmental benefits.

What are some of the most creative things you have seen done with pencils?
There is a lot of great art created using only pencil marks both in graphite, color, pastel, etc. and including some incredibly detailed realistic images in graphite, but graphite pencil work is often the first base of layout behind wonderful paintings as well. Most unique things I’ve seen done with pencils are some sculptures using carved pencils as the medium material.

Do you ever use pens or is that a faux pas at your brand-if you use pens what kind do you use and what do you like about them?
The only thing I always use a pen for is writing checks, sometimes if a document can be faxed I still even sign in pencil. Though I’ve never been a fountain pen person there are times when I appreciate using a nice roller ball or ball point pen and I do have a few that I really enjoy using particularly from Caran d’Ache and Faber-Castell and for a great performing low cost everyday use roller ball I enjoy the Pilot G2 . 

Though obviously we spend an insane amount of time on the computer, we love to see handwritten notes and handwritten journals. What should more people realize about the beauty of such a lost art?
A handwritten note is much more personal and it shows the recipient that you’ve taken even just a brief moment to give your personal touch to saying thank you, inviting them to an event or whatever the purpose of the communication. Similarly keeping a handwritten journal I have found allows more personal connection to the words I’m writing, something I am doing just for myself and the handwriting process allows for a more contemplative thought process before I commit my words to the page versus typing on a computer where that “undo” button requires less discipline in the writing process.

We love make up of course and the Product Alert column is by far the most populated of our 100 or so columns as it closes in on 2k posts. What cosmetic brands do you make makeup pencils for? Generally, all of the top western cosmetic brands have their pencils produced by several specialized pencil factories in Europe as the formulation technology is very complex, textures and colors go through trends and the cosmetic brands are very demanding about quality and service. We don’t make pencils directly for this market, but we supply the majority of cedar wood to all of these top cosmetic pencil producers since they need the best raw materials thus most every top brand in the world uses wood supplied by California Cedar Products Company. 

What has been key in accomplishing goals you've set for yourself in the past and what goals have you set for yourself in the future?
Remaining true to my vision and my values and then focusing in on the actual execution. A creative idea doesn’t get very far if you are not prepared to put in the hard work to make it happen and stick it out. I tend to set lots of goals, probably too many and need to be a bit more focused. One of my key goals looking forward beyond growing and strengthening our business is to see our Blackwing Foundation really begin to make a visible difference in enhancing arts and music education opportunities for young people.

What can people on the East Coast learn from people on the West Coast, and vice versa?
This probably plays into common stereotypes, but we seem to have a more relaxed atmosphere in the west coast and people seem to focus a bit more on work-personal life balance while the East Coast tends to have a bit harder edge focus on financial success combined with more urban cultural sophistication perhaps. I think there are positive and negative aspects of both that we can learn from one another.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
Beyond family member influences previously mentioned I’ve been fortunate to have a few great non-family mentors in life and business either through board of directors, other professional relationship or more personal associations. These individuals have helped a lot in understanding the importance of focusing in on doing well whatever it is I put my mind to and to always looking on how things can be improved upon next time around.

What are you proudest of and why?
My 29 year marriage to a wonderful woman and mother. She is a person who has faced many difficult challenges with such a true amount of grace that I am in awe of her. Also I am proudest of our two sons who have turned out to be fine young men with good values who’ve found great women to share their lives with.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I feel pretty fortunate in the work career opportunities and projects I’ve had to date. I still have a lot to accomplish in the areas I’m currently focused on with our different businesses and the Blackwing Foundation so for now that’s plenty to think about.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Other than serving on some interesting boards nothing much that I can recall. What’s most gratifying for me is simply receiving communications from our customers expressing their appreciation and support for our efforts and seeing our employees be successful and feel fulfilled through their participation in the business.

What one word best describes you and why?
Overcommitted. I probably have way to many irons in the fire at any given time. I have a tough time saying no to interesting opportunities, getting involved with a good cause or pursing a new creative endeavor. Fortunately, I have a good team and family around me that helps me prioritize.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Ginger and I enjoy going to the theater each time we come to town even though the area is pretty crowded for my taste. We also like out of the way quaint places to eat.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
I can’t say I’ve done a lot of shopping in Manhattan, I leave that to my wife and we have great shopping in San Francisco as well. I am fascinated with old books, maps and prints especially with respect to natural history and architecture and can spend an hour or more easily in such places. I was really disappointed during my last visit that I arrived 10 minutes after closing time at The Old Print Shop at 150 Lexington and didn’t get to see their offerings. Definitely going to make that a top priority on my next visit to Manhattan.

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
Guess I’d love to work with a famous artist and/or musician who really is passionate about our Palomino and Blackwing products and would be just the right spokesperson for our brand while helping to support also our educational foundation efforts. Not sure who that is at this point as it has to be just the right fit.

What is your favorite drink?
Changes from time to time, but currently Bulleit Rye Whiskey, neat.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
I’ve ended up in a pool before, fully clothed of course.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Enjoy visiting Palma in the Village whenever I make it to town.

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature?
Nick Carraway - The Great Gatsby. 

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
My grandfather always wanted to be King for a day so he could outlaw legal length paper. I’d probably expand on that and see to the elimination of some of the excessive regulatory obstacles that limit the ability of entrepreneurial small businesses to grow and expand while protecting large corporations which have the resources to focus on ever increasing, burdensome compliance issues. Too often new well-intentioned regulations result in unintended consequences.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
Personally I am not too worried about such honors, though my great-grandfather Philip Berolzheimer was involved in New York City politics from about 1917 into the 1920s.  He and his wife Clara were the last of my direct ancestors to live fulltime in Manhattan. He served first as Special Deputy Commissioner of Parks in charge of music performances in the park, then as Parks Commissioner and finally as Chamberlain where he proposed a "musical and arts centre" be built in Central Park, with facilities for "a splendid opera house with a building on one side to house the musical and dramatic arts and a conservatory of music, and on the other a corresponding building for the fine and plastic arts." The project never came to fruition and it was not until Lincoln Center was built in the 1960s that such an arts complex of similar vision came to be. It would be nice to see something honoring his efforts to support music and the arts in the city at Central Park in the area the original project was proposed.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
Taking our Palomino Brands team to a Yankee’s game versus the Red Sox when we were in town for the National Stationery Show a couple years ago. 

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
This sounds really touristy, but to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I enjoy the natural history museum too, but there are other great ones in many other cities so that’s a bit less unique. 

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Mark Catesby is an early 18th Century British Naturalist, Artist and Botanist that produced the first comprehensive, illustrated Natural History of the Americas with his “Natural History of the Carolinas” which is an amazing work he self-produced (this was 100 years before Audubon) and his work and life has been an inspiration in my interest and study of Natural History and the early naturalists and explorers of the age of Enlightenment.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
In April 2012 we hosted the first Blackwing Experience Exhibit and events at the Art Directors Club. The first night we had over 600 people attend the “Party for the Pencil” using Blackwing pencils drawing, writing song lyrics, participating in other creative activities, learning about the history of the Blackwing and the pencil industry. We had a wonderful jazz set performed by my friends Christian Tamburr and Dominick Farrinaci and their band, who are truly amazing musicians and artist Shantell Martin doing live freestyle drawing projected onto the walls reflecting her experience of the event as the evening went on. Overall it was just a really cool vibe and it was great to see people get excited about experiencing a really well-crafted creative tool in the Blackwing Pencil.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
My wife Ginger and I established the Blackwing Foundation in 2012 to support arts and music education at the K-12 level. We’ve dedicated both our own and company financial resources to this cause as well as our time. We are currently working with several programs to support improved arts and music learning opportunities for the kids in their schools. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan?
Underrated: The diversity of opportunities to experience the arts.
Overrated: the pizza. Sorry just doesn’t compare with Italy.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
The Arts section is interesting for its updates on what’s going on in the arts in Manhattan and features on Admirable Artists.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
No. I’m waiting till my next visit when I can try it with you in person.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I’m a baritone in a chorus named the “Don’t Give up Your Day Job” Chorus.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Twitter: @cberolz

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