Having just returned from the 2017 edition of FINAT’s European Label Forum in Berlin, I share with you some thoughts which I already wrote down in my editorial of the association’s Yearbook that has just been released. The thoughts and ideas that were shared, the conversations that took place and the (new) friendships that were built only confirm the role of our association as platform linking the label community on its way to future business success! Thanks to all of you who were there who made this an event to remember.

Three years ago, after a series of member consultations and brainstorming, FINAT unfolded its ‘roadmap for success’ in a changing world. With an updated mission as the starting point (‘embracing adjacent narrow-web solutions beyond self-adhesive’); an ambitious travel destination on the horizon (‘leading the way to future success for international label businesses’); and five navigating principles (the ‘5-star strategy’), we set out on a journey through a decade of change.

As is often the case when you are travelling, the journey can be more interesting than the destination itself. The changing landscape, volatile weather conditions, unexpected deviations, engine failure and exciting encounters with new people on the way always make for memorable stories — specially when all these external conditions and circumstances change as rapidly as they have done over the past ten years.

A change of era

As one management author put it a few years ago: ’We are not in an era of change, we are in a change of era’. Returning to the travelling context, this translates as : ‘It is not about a change of destination: it’s about an entirely different type of journey.’

Over the years, the European label community has always demonstrated its agility and adaptiveness to change. Its drive to be early adopters of new technology; its ability to manage complexity in the search for innovative solutions; and its spirit of corporate entrepreneurship have put it in pole position to master the challenges on its journey to success.

As could be learned at this year’s European Label Forum, the past few years in the label industry’s journey have been prosperous, with solid above-GDP growth rates; label converters diversifying into other areas of the package printing domain; the accelerated adoption of digital technology; and plenty of interest from external investors, helped by private equity and low interest rates. The enormous upcoming Labelexpo Europe is a reflection of the buoyant and dynamic state of our industry at this point in the current decade.

Staying ahead of the game

However, past achievements are no guarantee for future success. If we additionally apply the analogy of travelling to the world of sports, it is evident that the road to the top is one thing, but staying up there is another. There are still significant challenges to be addressed in terms of the possible return of bilateralism in Europe; accelerated industry consolidation; technical disruption enabling the adoption of new business models; and, finally, the increasing scarcity of young talent in the competitive labour market of tomorrow.

The secret behind leadership is to stay ahead of the game. And this is why FINAT is there,… to bring together the brightest minds this industry; to stimulate dialogue and interaction between peers; to facilitate the flow of knowledge and information; to collaborate on common standards and best practices; and to assess the possible scenarios for the years ahead.

Unleash the potential

Events like FINAT’s European Label Forum aim to give the leaders of this industry an opportunity to escape from the hectic reality of these busy times and keep the future on the agenda of today. As last year’s ELF keynote speaker, former Formula 1 director Mark Gallagher, put it: ‘It is not about car racing (which sometimes can be boring), it is about the dynamics of innovation and technology in a competitive environment. If you can unleash that potential it is amazing what you can achieve’.

Replace the words ‘car racing’ with ‘label printing’ and there we go!