A Closer Look at Catherine Heckman

Business Unit Director, Ashland

A Closer Look at Catherine Heckman


For each issue, FlexPack VOICE® hosts a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader. In this issue, we interview Catherine Heckman, business unit director—North America, laminating, adhesives and coatings at Ashland, a global specialty materials company.

“My career has been mainly marketing focused in strategic market development, planning, and execution; new product development and sustainability innovation; portfolio management; and sales and business development,” says Heckman, who has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Wright State University in Ohio. Heckman, who earned an MBA from John Carroll University in Ohio, also serves on the FPA Chairperson’s Advisory Committee. She is the co-chair of the TLMI Governmental and Regulatory Committee.

Sustainability needs to be handled much like the climate crisis that is being revived within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Designate either a government agency or a ‘czar’ to spearhead a sustainability infrastructure plan to create the needed infrastructure to combat the growing waste problem.

FlexPack VOICE®: What do you see as the major issues facing the industry this year,
globally and/or domestically?

Catherine Heckman: It should come as no surprise that the major issues have been the pandemic and emerging out of the pandemic, plant fires, and the extreme weather on the Gulf Coast that are all negatively impacting every aspect of the industry’s global supply chain, including allocation, price increases, and logistic constraints. That is happening in tandem with trying to cover high single-digit/low double-digit year-over-year organic growth. Everyone I talk to in the value chain is grappling with these issues.

FPV: Sustainability often comes up when answering the first question, so what is the industry doing well and where does it need to improve in this area?

CH: Sustainability has been a separate discussion point other than the conversation centering

around the increased usage in all label and packaging segments throughout the pandemic, and the long-term impact on the landfills. It is not only our industry that needs to play an active part in being part of the solution. All stakeholders including CPGs (consumer packaged goods companies), raw material suppliers, and waste management companies should be working together on the right infrastructure—such as recycling, industrial composting, pyrolysis—that can handle the growing packaging waste being created. Those involved in sustainability in our industry all have their ideas on what sustainability means. However, there hasn’t been a line drawn in the sand to execute the plan.

FPV: Other than sustainability, what are the long-term challenges—beyond this year—for the industry?

CH: If you look at some of the 10-year mega-trends—e-commerce, CPG/retail margin compression, and ever-changing consumer preferences—these are all areas that could transform our industry. For example, as flexible packaging becomes more commoditized—driven by lower barriers-to-entry and shifts to more cost-effective materials and/or downgauging in response to sustainability initiatives—the value proposition of the market will slowly diminish. This is the challenge with the explosion of e-commerce. Will there be less investment in shelf appeal printing—which has been a long-time value add for converters—that reduces haptic coatings or eye-catching graphics? Will package light-weighting to reduce costs and environmental footprint cause primary and secondary printing and packaging to consolidate? I expect several significant shifts in the industry over the coming years that will change the complexion of how we know it today.

FPV: We have a new presidential administration that is taking a different approach on trade issues than the former president. If you had 15 minutes with President Joe Biden, what would you discuss about trade issues?

CH: In comparison to the previous administration, I believe President Biden is taking a more calculated approach to trade policy and issues—understanding that trade wars ultimately do not benefit our country. I do not believe there are ideas about improving our trade policy with other countries, especially China, that he hasn’t already considered.

FPV: What would you discuss with him about recycling, sustainability, and recycling infrastructure?

CH: Sustainability needs to be handled much like the climate crisis that is being revived within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Designate either a government agency or a “czar” to spearhead a sustainability infrastructure plan to create the needed infrastructure to combat the growing waste problem.

FPV: Generally, how do you see government regulations as they pertain to the industry?

What should change?

CH: In keeping with the sustainability theme, there are too many—I believe 10 at last count—state-sponsored EPR bills that will be voted on in the next year by legislatures that truly do not understand the label and packaging industry and the overarching impact of their decisions. Along those lines, there are states like California that pass bills without deference to industry impact. While they are trying to protect consumers, many times it limits consumer options in material choices, as an example. 

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