Trailblazer of the Month- Brooke Lee

Meet Brooke Lee, a paper industry luminary who is transforming the world of paper. Her incredible story serves as a powerful source of inspiration to all of us.

Can you share with our readers how you initially got started in the Paper Industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

I represent my family’s 4th generation of involvement and leadership at Anchor Paper Company, a paper and packaging distributor and converter headquartered in the Twin Cities. While many would say that ‘paper was in my blood’, having an eventual career at Anchor was not talked about when I was growing up, nor was there an expectation that I would come to work at the business after my college graduation.  My mother first broached the subject with me following the completion of a 2-year employment contract in Kyoto with a Japanese Company. She told me that if I was interested in meeting a lot of interesting people and working with a lot of different products, that I should have a meeting with Anchor’s Director of Sales and Director of Procurement.  I took the job a few weeks later and I’ve never looked back!  I am inspired daily by the passion of the people in this industry; it’s been very rewarding to be a part of it.

Throughout your career, what are some of the most significant challenges you’ve faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry, and how did you overcome them?

The most significant challenge for me early in my career was being taken seriously.  I stepped into the role of CEO at Anchor when I was 32 years old following the sudden death of my mother.  I looked very different from many of the executives in the industry.  While I had a lot of internal support from the Anchor employees, I needed to prove myself to our supplier and customer base. As I say a lot here, ‘we get by with a little help from our friends.’  I was not shy about asking questions, and I was genuine about my commitment to Anchor Paper and about Anchor’s commitment to the industry.  I leaned heavily on our Leadership and Sales Teams to make introductions, and I asked for help from trusted people in my network when I hit a wall or needed an ear to bounce ideas off.

Can you describe a pivotal moment or achievement in your career that you consider to be a defining moment or turning point? How did it shape your trajectory in the industry?

After a lot of research and due diligence, we made the decision to expand our paper and packaging manufacturing capabilities in 2018.  By December of 2019, we moved into an expanded, integrated converting facility in western Wisconsin.  This was a big risk for a 95-year-old company, and despite COVID setting in 3 months after we moved into the facility, it ended up being one of the best decisions we could have made.  It further legitimized us in the industry, and it has helped us expand further into the state of WI.  Seeing a long-term vision come to fruition despite the adversity that COVID brought, has been both incredible and scary at times.  I learned a lot from this expansion, to include being able to shift gears quickly and to see the opportunities in disruption.

As a successful woman in an executive leadership role, what advice would you give to young women aspiring to make their mark in the Paper Industry or any field, for that matter?

Keep. Showing. Up.

Could you share with us any future goals or projects you’re currently working on or are passionate about?

I am passionate about instilling a love for reading books and for promoting literacy overall.  There are so many studies that show a correlation between learning and enhanced comprehension with reading books vs using a digital source.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad, but there’s something enduring about reading a physical book and being able to take notes.  I am also a BIG proponent of hand-written notes, and the beautiful papers that can be used to underscore a message or a special event.   

We all know that you have exceptional organizational skills and you are a prodigious planner. Could you share some insights into your planning process? How do you approach setting goals, managing your time effectively, and ensuring that you stay on track with your projects and initiatives?

I am obsessed with making lists, which is one of the many reasons I love to use, and even rely on, a daily planner.  I try to start my day with a list of key things to-do, which I circle back on at the end of the day.  Anything that I don’t get taken care of gets pushed to the top of the list the next day.  A key piece of organizational advice that I got a few years ago was to add the ‘fun’ things to my calendar, along with the business obligations, appointments, etc. Not only do these fun events serve as a bright spot amongst a sometimes chaotic day or week, but they also help me to plan better to keep those much-needed breaks on my calendar.  

As someone with extensive experience in the Paper Industry, where do you see the industry heading in the next 5 to 7 years? Are there any emerging trends or innovations that you believe will significantly impact the industry?

Printing is a vibrant, dynamic industry.  While I think we will continue to see a decline in the graphic printing paper market, I think we will see an uptick in printing across other substrates like flexible packaging, textiles, and signage.  I think that product packaging will become a differentiator for a lot of brands, not just luxury brands, and that we will see some really beautiful and CREATIVE print work in the next few years.

What is your Favorite Quote or Words of Wisdom to live by?

I have 2:

The first is a Japanese proverb: ‘Fall seven times; stand up eight.’ 

The second comes from the great Audrey Hepburn: ‘Paris is always a good idea.’




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