Shaun Larson

Shaun Larson Headshot

Education Evangelizer

Shaun Larson Receives
2016 IADD Cutting Edge Award

The Cutting Edge Award, one of the IADD’s highest honors, focuses on the person (or team of people) who has made the most positive impact on our industry, preferably within the last 24 months, demonstrating a unique, meaningful or emerging contribution to the diecutting/diemaking industry. This contribution may be in the form of technology, hardware systems, methods, association development and betterment, active participation within the IADD, education or through some other significant contribution to further the industry as a whole. The award is presented annually, and past recipients are eligible.

The main criteria here is that you are “on the cutting edge” and that you have made a major impact on the Association over the last 24 months. Well, if you go back 24 months exactly, it was September 2014, when we held the IADD Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA, USA. It was also where we held the Corrugated Xchange, the second of what is now four, and soon to be five, successful Xchange programs.

The Xchange program was born in the Board room at the Annual Meeting in 2013. And the main man in charge was Shaun Larson, Sales Representative, Jonco Die Co. Inc., Mounds view, MN, USA. IADD’s then-Vice President of Chapters, Jim Cincinello from Marco Die Supplies, had been looking for a way to help revitalize the local chapters. He thought a spinoff of the old DREC tour would be a good fit. Educational programming, some vendor booths and some food and drinks for the attendees. DREC was very successful through the years, but the two-week format had become costly for the vendors. The Xchange concept was a similar format, with a few twists. One, rather than turning it into a full size tradeshow, the vendors pay a minimal fee for a small table. Two, rather than providing general diecutting education and information, these programs were going to be designed with laser-like focus on specific segments of our industry: Gasket Xchange, Corrugated Xchange, Paperboard Xchange, etc.

IADD President Jeremy Guest of Diansuply elaborates, “I can still remember the spawning of the Xchange program. As the discussion of chapter revitalization went around the room, the concept began to build and in many people’s minds, we had an idea to build on and perhaps over the next year we would put it into action. But Shaun and fellow Board members Rick Putch of National Steel Rule, Connie Adams of AmeriKen and Reg Cunningham of Everett Graphics had other ideas. Shaun and Rick happened to be sitting next to each other, and you could just see them bubbling with ideas on how to make this happen. Approximately 100 days later, with the help of Dan Harvey and Precision Gasket, the Gasket Xchange happened in Edina, MN, USA. It even included the IADD’s first attempt at a webinar. From there the concept has continued to grow, and Shaun has led the charge from day one.

“When I notified Shaun of this award, I asked him, ‘what motivates you within the IADD?’ His answer summed it all up: ‘I have a passion to see the Association benefit the industry by bringing education and information to this industry.’ You often meet people whose words and actions do not align. Not this person. He puts his actions where his mouth is. I listen and observe him consistently putting education and information as a priority in all his IADD actions.”

Whether speaking as the leader of the Xchange programs, as the Co-Chair of the 2017 IADD•FSEA Odyssey in charge of programming, as a chapter officer with the Twin Cities Chapter or as the IADD’s current President-Elect and future President, Larson’s message is consistent: It is all about the education.

Larson is no stranger to awards. He was honored in 2009 with the President’s Award. Shaun became a chapter officer in 2007 and has been active on the IADD Board of Directors since 2009. He first became active in the IADD in the early 90s. When presenting the award to Larson, Guest said, “I find this to be amazing. Not the fact that he has been active in the IADD for nearly 25 years, but rather that someone could be active in this association for 25 years and THEN, 25 years later, be recognized by his peers as the person who over the last 2 years has made the biggest, most cutting edge impact on the IADD. This speaks of Shaun’s true passion for the IADD and our industry.”

“Since I became President, Shaun has been my right hand man. I knew him before, but over the last year I feel like we have really become much closer. While I was excited before about the prospects of working closely with Shaun during my presidency, I can honestly say that now I cannot imagine what it would have been like without him. It is my privilege to award him with the 2016 IADD Cutting Edge Award.”

Afterward, Larson provided us with additional insight.

TCE: You’ve put a lot of time and effort into the Xchange program. What motivates you and what did/do you hope to achieve by supporting this concept?

SL: I have a passion to see the Association benefit the industry by bringing education and information to this industry. I see this happening through the chapters. Xchange, in concept, is a program that on a chapter level we can gather a panel of experts to present on a converting discipline. After they are done presenting, the experts are challenged from the audience with discussion, questions and answers. It is valuable to the die-maker and the converter and also brings value to the suppliers of this industry by providing a venue for showcasing the products innovated to solve the issues we all face.

TCE: What is different about this project than other educational programs?

SL: Xchange is interactive. The very fist one we did, we had a room with a hydraulic press and we experimented with using various bevels of rule and cutting surfaces to find something that cut the material. We measured cutting force and had a camera hooked up live that showed a macro view of the material as it was cut by the knife. The materials had been sent in ahead of time, and we were able to give solutions on how to convert them right there, live. The interaction by the attendees caused excitement and together we all came up with solutions, not just the experts.

TCE: You’re also involved in creating programming for Odyssey. Why do you feel it is important for people to attend these programs?

SL: Programming is what makes Odyssey different from any other trade show out there. It’s an educational experience, and people count on that. This industry has a bunch of people who are very passionate about what they do. Many of them love to share the experiences that have made them the experts in the field. I love that! I am energized to have conversations with these people and the programming at Odyssey gives these people an audience. It’s my belief that the innovations that have revolutionized this and other industries have been birthed by programs like the one that the IADD puts on.

TCE: How did you get started in the industry? Describe your career path. Why did you make these choices?

SL: I started in the industry straight out of high school. In 1987, with high aspirations of becoming a freelance architect, I started working part time for my girlfriend’s father, John Gordon. He owned a steel rule die company in the basement of an old tire warehouse building in Minneapolis, MN, USA. I cut my teeth ruling flat cutting dies and rubbering them as well when needed. In those days when the company was smaller, we all did what we needed to get the jobs out.

Then I made the best choice of my life by marrying Tami Jo Gordon. At that time I made a choice to remain in the industry. I really felt a draw to the people that worked at Jonco Die, and others I met in the industry. When I started, there was still a lot done by hand. Dieboards were cut with jig saws, and rule was processed by hand with bending tools, bridgers and miter machines.

It’s been amazing to watch technology advance in this industry and see Jonco grow along with it. I remember the first laser we brought in, because at that time I had moved from flat knifing to the CAD department. We used to keep that laser running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not because we were that busy, but because we did not want to shut it off, not knowing if it would start up again. As time went on, we filled up the capacity the laser gave us. Jonco has always invested into the newest technology available, and that makes it fun. I am energized by innovation and passion, and there is plenty of that around here.

John Gordon asked me one day what I really wanted to do when I grew up, and I let him know that I saw myself working with customers. Soon I was working in customer service at Jonco, and I did like it just as much as I thought I would. After a while I took on the responsibility of calling on some of John’s accounts, and that was challenging, but I really enjoyed it.

I have grown sales with Jonco since then, and now it’s my career. Getting out in the field and rubbing shoulders with real people who make packaging, industrial parts, marketing displays and promotional materials has been challenging and rewarding. These people face real issues and are looking for solutions. I may not have all the answers, but I like to think that with being connected to an association like the IADD, I have the means to get them the answers they need.

TCE: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the industry?

SL: The perceived notion that value does not come with a price. I have certain products that I am loyal to. I am loyal to them because they work when I need them to, I get great service, and I know I’m going to get what I need when I want it. I know that I pay more for these products. “Everyday Low Prices” can pass along with the 90s as far as I’m concerned. Successful companies know value, and are willing to pay the price it takes to get it. The myth that these things are free slaps the face of those who pay the price to provide exceptional goods and services.

TCE: What advice would you give to someone who is considering entering the industry?

SL: My advice would be that they are about to begin a journey that can be frustrating at times, but the people of this industry are amazing. Get to know as many as you can. Learn to stop and breathe every so often. Hang on to the good experiences and let go of the failures because they will happen. Honor those who have been successful in this industry. Learn from the ones who have gone before you, there is no need to solve problems that have already been solved. Most of all, find joy in what you do because most likely life is to short not to.

TCE: In one year, you’re going to be IADD President. What is your vision for the future of our industry and our association?

SL: I watched a video the other day of the Tesla plant where they build the Model S in Fremont, CA, USA. The technology amazed me. I can literally see a day in the future of this industry where robots are used to do all the things we do by hand now. It will happen if the packaging industry does not get totally replaced by some other disruptive technology. With our association, we need to continue to be the definitive industry resource by embracing new ways of communicating with our members. Social media is not going away and will be vital to our continued success. I also believe that people still want to mingle socially and professionally with each other, so the future of our association depends on local chapters that are empowered and energized to put good programming on at intriguing venues.

TCE: How did you get involved in IADD?

SL: It had to be in the early 90s; I remember taking part in a group discussion with the future members of the IADD. It was my first exposure, and I remember how fondly John Gordon spoke of the Association. He commented about the benefits of the meetings and the fact that the friendships he gained through the IADD were invaluable. I attended with John or by myself many chapter and national meetings. In 2007, I got involved on the chapter level as an officer and I still serve as a chapter officer, with the Twin Cities Chapter. In 2009, I was elected to the Board and I have had the honor to serve there as well ever since.

TCE: What has your IADD participation meant to you?

SL: I share the sentiments of my father-in-law: the people and the experiences with the Association have been invaluable. One experience I had being a part of the IADD was participating in the diemaker exchange with a diemaker in Germany. What a completely amazing experience, getting to spend a week in a die shop half way around the world. I got to see first hand that the challenges we face as a die shop in the United States are not unlike the challenges faced in Europe. Although there were differences culturally, things were amazingly similar professionally. Who gets to do that?

TCE: What should we know about your family, personal hobbies, likes/dislikes?

SL: I could not be more proud of my family. My supportive, loving, compassionate wife is the best friend I will ever have. I have said it before and I will say it again, she is the best decision I have ever made. My daughter Alicia is talented and beaming with life. My first born son Joshua is creative and willing to challenge anything life might throw at him. Benjamin, my youngest, is persistent and knows that when he takes the reigns to life, he will be in control. A hobby both Ben and I share is collecting retro video games, actually all video games. We regularly go out treasure hunting on the weekends.

See past award recipients—and other IADD honorees—here