For each issue since its inception nearly three years ago, FlexPack VOICE® has hosted a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader. In this issue, we interview Adrianne Tipton, chief technology officer (CTO) at Novolex. She also is co-chair of the Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) of the Flexible Packing Association (FPA).
As CTO, Tipton manages the new product innovation portfolio, research and development (R&D), marketing, and manufacturing services, which consist of environment, health and safety (EHS); quality; engineering; and continuous improvement.
FlexPack VOICE®: Tell us a little bit about your company.
Adrianne Tipton: Novolex is a packaging company founded on the values of choice, sustainability, and innovation. We partner with customers to create packaging solutions touching nearly every aspect of daily life in the restaurant, retail, processor, and industrial markets. Novolex employs more than 10,000 people across 57 manufacturing facilities in North America and Europe, including two world-class plastic film recycling centers.
FPV: What is your company doing to encourage recruitment and retention? Anything along these lines involving diversity and inclusion efforts?
AT: With 57 manufacturing facilities, we encounter different localized recruitment challenges. While we are one Novolex family, each facility is a reflection of local diversity and culture, so our recruitment programs need to be creative, flexible, and not a one-size-fits-all approach. While we have always been an inclusive company, more recently we took steps to develop a formal diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program to ensure a strong bond with our families and the communities we live in. It is exciting to be able to build this program within our company culture with a focus on what is meaningful to the families at Novolex.
Novolex’s Broad-based Employee Award Plan (BEAP) [that was just announced] is something I am especially proud to highlight when it comes to our culture, recruitment, and retention. BEAP will provide employees who have a minimum of one year of service an opportunity to participate in the growth and success of Novolex. The plan offers the potential to receive cash rewards to eligible participants based on an increase in the valuation of the company when there’s a change in control. The plan is funded personally by Stan Bikulege, our chairman and CEO, and the company’s majority stakeholders, led by Apollo private-equity funds. The plan reflects our employee focus and is another great benefit to attract and retain great people in all roles in the company.
FPV: Talk a little bit about what got you into the industry, your background, and why you chose it as a career path.
AT: My journey wasn’t linear at all. I have been in R&D/innovation my entire career, albeit in different industries. I have a Ph.D. in syn-thetic organic chemistry, and I was focused on pharmaceutical sciences initially. After my post-doctoral program, I started working in high tech at an original equipment manufacturer as a process engineer working with technology that was 10–15 years out. I moved next to the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, where our innovations and product launches were 18–24 months out. While I was mainly in product development, I was exposed to the packaging development side as part of the full product experience. I then took an opportunity to consult for several years in the CPG innovation space, which was exciting and provided the opportunity to touch a lot of different technologies and product categories. Eventually, I took a job to be home more with my kids as vice president of innovation for a paper converting company, where I was introduced to some people who are now colleagues at Novolex—then just Hilex. They brought me on board when they purchased Duro eight years ago to manage the innovation and market development team, which evolved into the role I have today. This space is continually changing, challenging, and growing, which has made this a very fulfilling and exciting place to be.
FPV: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry if they were to ask for your advice?
AT: People encounter products from our industry multiple times a week and don’t fully appreciate the importance of flexible packaging providing safety and convenience and reducing waste in our daily lives. There’s a huge opportunity not only to innovate but also to help reset the negative perceptions of packaging held by its critics.
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career, good or bad or both?
AT: I have to say my experience at Novolex has been the most challenging—in a good way—and exciting of my career, mainly due to the support I have had from the leadership in the organization. It’s a place that makes you want to come to work and do a better job every day. My dad was a school principal and would say there wasn’t a day in his life he didn’t want to get up and go to work because he really loved his job. I have always kept that in mind throughout my career.
FPV: Who was your mentor and why was she or he important?
AT: I can’t say that I have had a specific mentor experience, but I do consistently identify traits in colleagues that I look up to and try to learn from their behaviors—how they respond under pressure, how they approach and think about business challenges, and how they coach and mentor their teams.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people to fill various positions?
AT: Experience is important. But how people will interact with teams is to me most important in new hires. If I hear a candidate say, “I did this” too many times during an interview without referencing a team or the support of an organization, I lose interest. Typically, that candidate won’t get to the next phase of the interview process. Too many roles require collaboration and teamwork.
FPV: Any other thoughts?
AT: Having the opportunity to work at Novolex is a rewarding experience. But part of what makes it a unique and rewarding experience is that we are part of an industry that has a sense of community due to trade associations like the FPA.