It was the first day of September back in 1990 when an unemployed Mike Sanchez began working for PacTec, Inc., then just a 3-man start-up selling an innovative new design of truck and dumpster liners from a tiny office in rural Clinton, LA. Now employing nearly 200 employees across several continents, PacTec has enjoyed immense growth and success during Mike’s years.
PacTec’s Marketing Director, Trey Castleberry, sat down with Mike to ask 30 rapid-fire questions to get to know the man, the myth, the legend. It turned into one of the funniest introspective interviews with lots of anecdotal stories sprinkled in. Enjoy…
Bill Smart, Mike, and Meredith Smith are accompanied by UCOR’s Jessica Johnson who nominated PacTec for the 2019 Small Business of the Year Award.
Trey Castleberry: Before we dig back into the recesses of your memory to the early PacTec days, and since I want immediate answers without a lot of thought (plus the fact that could take a while since this has been your home for more than half your life-LOL), tell me: Most unusual or interesting job you’ve ever had?
Mike Sanchez: (Laughing hysterically)… Well in college I managed a small Ice Cream shop near LSU’s campus, and boy can I tell you some stories, but very few people know that just before coming to PacTec I was “allowed to explore other opportunities” for an altercation at the Baton Rouge airport while working as a ticket counter agent for Continental Airlines. Hey things happen, and I was young and dumb, but I’m a go-getter, and reported to work for Mike at PacTec immediately after.
TC: Oh, my goodness… let’s just leave that there. Tell me, as a now more mature colleague (wink, wink), how do you strike a good balance between your career and family?
MS: That’s an easy one, and one that my boss may not like to hear, but I turn it off like a mental light-switch. When I leave work, I focus on my family, and unless it is an emergency I try not to deal with work issues. When I get home, I’m the family man and we don’t really discuss the office. I try to keep them black and white and not blend the two. I’ve gotten very good at compartmentalizing over these 30 years, and it’s served me well in that regard.
TC: I’m impressed, and a little jealous. So, what other skills has PacTec helped you develop in your career?
MS: Wow, so many. We’ve grown a ton in the last 30 years, but in the early days I had to hone my skills as a salesman, transition to management, learn as much as possible about the Nuclear industry as we expanded our offerings there and so on. When we opened the UK office, I had to learn their culture and communication styles which was a challenge in the early years. And I’ve been blessed to get some great mentoring and formal training along the way, including B2B Marketing Strategy training from Harvard Business School!
Mike pictured in England upon opening of the PacTec EPS, Ltd. Office.
TC: So, if you could switch your current job with anyone else within the company, whose job would you want?
MS: I’d go back to being a salesman in a heartbeat! I started there, learned a lot directly from the owner (I sat across from his desk in the early years), and I’m pretty actually good at it. They get to wear one hat and just hammer it - no projects to juggle, contracts to negotiate, people to manage, etc. Definitely back to sales.
TC: OK salesman! What advice would you impart on prospective PacTec candidates?
MS: Always do your best, give it your all – even if you mess up. Do what is expected of you, and more. If I’m proof of anything, it’s that PacTec values those that make meaningful impacts, so strive to learn and do as much as possible to climb. Have a plan for your future and work at it each day.
TC: Speaking of new PacTecers, if they asked you to describe PacTec in just 3 words – GO!
MS: Ohhhh, we’re family-oriented – first and foremost. Driven – to innovate, to be better, to help our customers succeed. Virtuous? Can a company be that? You know what I mean – we’re honest, honorable, take the moral high ground in very competitive markets.
TC: So PacTec sounds like an ideal place to grow. What do you find most challenging here?
MS: Same answer – family-orientation. It’s like a double-edged sword for us, in that we sometimes have tough decisions to make to reach the next level or get out of our comfort zone, but we know and love each other, so sometimes it may stifle fast growth.
TC: With so much experience, I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to grow elsewhere. What has made you stick around?
MS: No one can top the feeling I’ve had repetitively of watching PacTec grow. I feel like we started from practically nothing, a start-up, and with every victory comes this immense sense of pride – every patent, every new product line. It’s like a father watching a baby grow up. Cheesy huh? Plus, I’ve enjoyed plenty of personal career growth here as well.
TC: Exactly how many different job titles have you had?
MS: Geez, let’s see… Sales Rep, Sales Manager, Director of Sales & Marketing, Director of Nuclear Sales, Executive Vice President, now President of Nuclear Division.
Mike being interviewed for PacTec’s feature on History Channel Modern Marvel’s show in 2010.
TC: OK - Let’s switch gears for a second and get back to the rapid-fire format I intended. No thinking – just answer. These will be fun, and we’ll get to know you. What is your favorite quotable movie line?
MS: Tombstone, but it’s more of a back-and-forth, when Doc says, “Because, Wyatt Earp is my friend.”
Jack responds with, “I’ve got lots of friends.”
Doc says, “I don’t.”
That sticks with me nowadays because I can count on one hand the true drop-everything friends I have now. Life just tends to get in the way of keeping those types of friends forever.
TC: This is getting deep again, Mike. Are you messy or organized?
MS: Organized. VERY.
TC: Best vacation you’ve ever been on?
MS: Family trip to Italy with my wife, parents, and siblings. Hands down.
TC: Describe what you were like at age 10.
MS: Social butterfly. A bit of a hell-raiser but involved in everything.
TC: Do you have an office nickname? What is it & why?
MS: BOOKAH. Sounds weird and it is. Probably 15 years ago we got these emails from Nigeria with different names asking for us to send products and they would deposit funds into our bank account. Of course, they wanted the bank account info. The last name on the email was bookah, and thanks to Adam, it has stuck to me.
TC: Do you recall any embarrassing moment at work?
MS: Oh yeah, that one time my back seized up and 2 grown men had to carry me to the car, drive me to the local doctor, and carry me in to get a relief shot. I was only 35!
TC: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would you like to see cast as you?
MS: It would have to be someone short… Robert DeNiro! Yes!
TC: Let’s imagine you could interview anyone dead or alive - who would it be?
MS: George Washington.
TC: Another imaginary one for ya - If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
MS: Woah so many. Political events for sure, but I’m gonna say when Jesus was recruiting disciples. I would be one of those early followers, giving Peter a run for his money. HA!
TC: Interesting. Makes this one ironic – what would your Death Row last meal be?
MS: Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. Mmmm… Is it lunch time yet?
TC: Now you’re going to be stranded on an island. What three things are you bringing?
MS: Bible, family photo, and a pocketknife to whittle. Never mind items to get me off the island.
TC: If your house was burning down, what is the one non-living thing you save?
MS: My dad’s 1939 .22 Remington rifle – you know he got that when he was only 6 years old!?
TC: Name you least favorite food.
MS: Look at me Trey – there aren’t many LOL. But I will NOT eat liver. Blecgh.
TC: Three words that best describe you:
MS: Loyal. Fun. Kind.
TC: All true Bookah! So, describe your first day working at PacTec for me.
MS: It was INTENSE! I walked into Mike’s office, he had me sitting against the wall just across from him. He handed me a liner price sheet, a blank notepad, an ink pen, and a list of people to call. That was it. No training or orientation. Just started calling and he’d coach me during every call.
TC: PacTec’s changed a little since then. What changes are most evident to you?
MS: Well we still have the small family company culture, but I am no longer involved in every aspect of the company. We’ve got other very talented personnel for that. But the growth keeps coming, like our manufacturing capacities. It’s all changed but the emotions of excitement are still the same.
TC: If you could change one thing about working here, what would it be?
MS: Honestly, it’s gonna sound mushy, but the older I get, the more I wish we could do more for others. Now don’t get me wrong, Mike is a very giving Christian and PacTec does loads of charitable work, but I’d like to see us do even more.
TC: What has been your favorite project to work on?
MS: Establishing the Nuclear sales division. Breaking away from Industrial sales was challenging but has opened so many doors for the company to grow. We learned about new markets, new cultures, began doing international work, it even sparked the opening of our UK office.
Mike pictured with PacTec EPS, Ltd. Managing Director Mike Nichols at a Manchester United futbol game.
TC: That’s great, Mike. What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
MS: I love to cook. I enjoy being the master of the grill, but I like to cook all sorts of things. Must be the Italian in me.
TC: Define success for me.
MS: For me it’s not about money. Sure, you need enough to be comfortable and provide for your family, but it is more about satisfaction of career achievements. Getting those affirmations that your efforts are meaningful.
TC: Which leads perfectly into my 30th and last question: What is your proudest work moment or achievement?
MS: That one’s easy. And don’t laugh if I get a little choked up… But on my 25th anniversary, all the top managers and spouses treated me to a surprise dinner (my wife was in on it and brought me to eat dinner) where Mike presented me with a watch with a single-word engraving: LOYAL. That meant more than you can ever know, like it affirmed everything I’ve strived to do – to weather the good times and bad, to stay dedicated to our mission and to show up every day and do the best I could to get us where we envisioned.
Mike receiving his 25th anniversary gift from Mike Schilling.