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EIJ-Altivity, Milwaukee, WI

Naming his business for his sons—Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah—Pollis Robertson has a constant reminder of who he’s working for. And in case he forgets, his wife is in charge of sales and marketing.


Pollis Robertson trusts himself and the latest technology to stay ahead.

With the business now in its fifth year, EIJ-Altivity President Pollis Robertson freely admits that for the first four years, “every day was a struggle” as he and his wife worked to run both a family and a new film-manufacturing business. That said, Pollis concedes, “I would actually do it again, but I recommend it to almost no one.”
Robertson’s business, EIJ-Altivity, is a joint venture with Altivity, the former consumer-packaging unit of Smurfit-Stone. Robertson leases 50,000 ft² at Altivity’s Milwaukee, WI site, where he uses some contract Altivity production workers to run a new seven-layer blown-film line purchased from Kiefel Inc. (Wrentham, MA), primarily creating five- to seven-layer polyethylene (PE) film, applying nylon and EVOH for barrier.
Counting himself and his wife, who is now the sales and marketing manager, the company has three full-time staff, with sales handled by 15 contract reps.
“I do almost everything for this company,” Robertson says, “being an entrepreneur, you’re very hands on.” When MPW spoke with Robertson, he’d just dropped his bags off at home after a trip to Arkansas for a film trial, each of which he attends. In between stopping at the bank and picking up his son from basketball camp, Robertson laid out why in 2002 he decided to abandon a successful career as a film broker, which he started after sales gigs with market biggies like Pliant and AET Films, and start his own manufacturing business.
“It didn’t take me very long to figure out that I could be far more successful if I was running my own show,” Robertson says, remembering also that the industry as a whole was downsizing. “I didn’t want to get to a point in my low- to mid-40s where I was out looking for a job.” So with his wife pregnant with their third child, Robertson placed his future in his own hands.
EIJ-Altivity is born
Robertson knew Altivity from his brokering days, and a chance encounter with an executive while in line at airport security stoked the kindling of a partnership. An African-American, Robertson knew his minority status could help a company like Altivity win some business, but he also knew that alone did not a business plan make.
“We are a minority-owned company, but that’s typically the cherry on top, the gravy,” he says. “We’re held accountable, just like Bemis or anyone else.” Instead, Robertson’s strategy is based on bringing in the newest machinery and resin technology, and offering his big customers like Procter & Gamble and Kellogg’s the nimbleness a smaller player brings.
Initially considering a three-layer line, Robertson eventually decided on a seven-layer system from Kiefel, on the basis of future growth and as a differentiator from established players. “We simply set the machine parameters and output is almost identical with every run,” Robertson says. “If you have older assets, your hands are tied; you’re not always getting that consistency.”
Robertson says he is looking to add another line next year—at least five layers—with Kiefel getting the initial call. EIJ-Altivity is also investigating MDO (machine direction orientation) technology as a means to expand into niche, high-barrier bag-in-box and standup-pouch food applications, replacing older-generation polyester substrates and lamination packaging.
“We’re not trying to take the whole pizza pie, we just want a couple slices here and there,” Robertson says. “We’re not going to try and tackle a 50-million lb application, but within that application, there may be some segments where we can carve off 3 or 4 million lb.”
In a few years, through expansion and perhaps acquisition, Robertson hopes to have EIJ at $25 million in sales, with $100 million in his sights. “Our biggest challenge is we’re going to need to grow to be able to serve [our customers] the way they need to be served.”
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