A Great Dane: Martin Olesen brings expertise to sales role at Packaging Concepts

Cinemas Features

Whether selling popcorn kettles, popcorn kernels, promotional toppers or popcorn bags, Martin Olesen is highly regarded by his peers. The director of international sales at Packaging Concepts, Inc., where his product line includes paper vessels and microwave popcorn bags, he is known as “the Dean of Sales” in Europe.

Martin was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was a diplomat for the European Union, which provided opportunities for Martin to experience a wide range of influences. He believes that his father’s diplomatic abilities taught him how to deal with people. “My father was very good at communicating with people and he taught me to always tell the truth. Therefore, honesty has been a cornerstone in our household.”

Because of his father’s position, Martin was required to move from country to country in his youth. Thus, he received a comprehensive education and speaks six languages fluently (but not Spanish). “My parents opened my eyes to the world and gave me the opportunity to experience various cultures and all that comes with it.”

Olesen received his undergraduate degree from the University of Ottawa in Canada and his MBA from Copenhagen Business School. He was awarded the International Baccalaureate in 1992.

Kompan Company, a children’s playground equipment design company, gave Martin his entree into the world of sales. Yes, Martin Olesen once sold swing sets to kids in Denmark. (As a teen, he enjoyed a more rugged kind of play: boxing, rugby, hockey and American football.) Martin says his work at Kompan “taught me a method of sales, how to develop relationships with the buyer. Imagine me playing on horses and swings.”

When Martin graduated from Copenhagen Business School, a friend told him about a sales opportunity at C. Cretors & Company. A fellow Dane had just resigned from Cretors and the company needed a salesperson. Martin was soon hired by the U.S. company, renowned for its exports of popcorn equipment, kettles and the like.

“I will never forget. I left with two suitcases and when I arrived at the Chicago airport, they lost my luggage. I literally landed in the United States with only the shirt on my back. I was robbed at gunpoint two days later—welcome to America!” he chuckles.

Martin designed the international distribution plan for C. Cretors, which was recognized as Exporter of the Year in 1998 by the State of Illinois. He credits Charles Cretors as his mentor: “I always stay in touch with Charlie, He always told me the truth! I believe one of my strengths is I am honest and forthright with my customers. I tell the truth.”

As Martin Olesen has grown in his capabilities as a salesperson, he has observed that “the industry is still very relationship and network-driven. Strong relationships are crucial to the day-to-day execution. [People want to know] that I stand behind my word as I stand behind the products I market.” He believes that everyone tries to do their best with what they have, yet he makes every attempt to sculpt new opportunities, realizing that the overall goal is to operate in a profitable manner.

Martin is also more than willing to mentor colleagues and peers. He does not like the pronoun “I”—he prefers “we,” since he believes everyone in the cinema channel has a part to play in the growth of cinema concessions. “I truly believe it is about staying ahead of the game, generating new concepts and meeting the revolutionary ideas from our clients. We need to create attractive, functional packaging that makes it hard [for the customer] to resist.”

In 1997, Martin found a life partner in Shelly Gerts. “I wanted a person who would make me laugh and who would challenge me intellectually. Martin was the man!” Shelly attests. Since Shelly was also an employee at Cretors, Martin changed employment and moved to international sales with ConAgra Foods, selling Vogel Popcorn and the Orville Redenbacher brand. Soon after, he received Vogel’s Outstanding Sales Award. While at Vogel, he was appointed regional VP for NAC Europe. Martin served NAC and the European contingent for over 10 years.

Olesen left his position with Vogel in 2005 to join Packaging Concepts. He notes that his largest volume of sales today comes from microwave popcorn bags, but he still demonstrates expertise in the overall cinema marketplace. He is a senior advisor to many of his allies in multiple arenas. He can tell you what concession products to buy and how to buy them.

One of the crowning achievements of Martin Olesen’s life came in 2017 when he earned U.S. citizenship. He now holds dual citizenship from Denmark and the United States. 

Martin has spent time on six of the seven continents and hopes to reach Antarctica in the near future. His favorite movie is Casablanca, while enjoying popcorn in a leak-proof bag with a cold soda. One final bit of trivia: Martin loves growing and cultivating roses. Another surprising aspect of this great Dane.