A Closer Look at David Nunes

David Nunes, President, Hosokawa Alpine American, Inc.

A Closer Look at David Nunes

In each issue, FlexPack VOICE® hosts a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader. In this issue, we talk to David Nunes, president of Hosokawa Alpine American, Inc. and a board member of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). 

In 1981, Nunes graduated with a degree in plastics engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. “So, I guess I was going to be in the industry one way or the other,” he says. 

His first job out of college was in sales, and then he progressed to other positions. In 1986, he responded to an advertisement for a sales engineering job at Hosokawa Alpine American, Inc. and was impressed with the company from the start. “I told my wife that this is the company for me, and I started in February 1987.” 

He held various jobs before the company, which is a global supplier of blown film extrusion systems, named him president in 1991. 

“My primary role is still direct contact with customers—daily issues, proposals, and dealing with customers on several issues and being directly involved with all of our equipment sales,” he says. “In most cases, the people who are buying these multimillion-dollar machines want to negotiate directly with decision-makers so that always has been my function. And then, of course, being in charge of the rest of the company.” 

We recently talked with Nunes about his career and the state of the flexible packaging industry. 

FlexPack VOICE®: What do you see as the major challenges facing the industry? 

David Nunes: Without question, it is always environmental issues and concerns and legislative issues. They continue to legislate against an unbelievably superior product. Even the little plastic bag is superior ecologically, environmentally, and economically to all alternatives, including paper and reusables, and yet it continues to be vilified. It is not a plastic problem. It is a litter problem. So, legislative issues and public perceptions are issues. FPA’s Emerging Leadership Council has been important to me because it is getting the younger people involved. And they are doing some fantastic things with education. Everybody needs to understand the importance of flexible packaging and how valuable it is. It is a misnomer to say that our general flexible packaging is not recyclable. That is a complete fallacy. One of the most frustrating things to me is that this is a battle the industry won almost 40 years ago in the 1980s, when it was proven that plastic was best. One truck of plastic bags is equivalent to seven trucks of paper bags. Cradle to the grave, the carbon footprint is a fraction. Everyone knew it, and then we backslid. One of the problems is that we did not set up the infrastructure to get the materials collected and recycled, and that was an industry failure. But the legislation needs to be based on facts, not fiction. 

FPV: What about labor? Have your recruitment and retention efforts changed as the economy has evolved? 

DN: Not really. We have been fortunate to retain our people. We have had a long history of retention. However, the industry at large and our customers have labor issues. We are in engineering services so we do not have hundreds of hourly employees like most of our customers. It is difficult for them to find, keep, and train people. When polls are done and the question is asked—“What are the issues that keep owners up at night?”—brand owners historically have said it is materials: resin, resin pricing, fluctuation, availability. Now, it is labor. It is important for us to help our customers by trying to find better ways for automation and training and all the other things we could do to help. 

FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career, good or bad or both? 

DN: There are too many to cite a specific one. Most of the companies when I started were privately owned, entrepreneurial companies, and it has been fascinating to meet these powerful people in business. You see up close that our industry has as many talented and capable entrepreneurs as any industry of any kind. You have all of the different backgrounds and personalities where all these unbelievable entrepreneurs came from, and there was no one-size-fits-all formula. But one thing they have in common, like all entrepreneurs, is a vision and a dream and then achieving it. One of the great joys is having those relationships with these people who have been so enormously successful and knowing we have been an important component of their success. We want to do everything in our power to facilitate their success and not let them down—to meet and exceed their expectations—and that continues to this day. 

FPV: If you knew someone who was starting out in their career, what advice would you give them? 

DN: We are always recruiting new engineers, and we have a great group of what we call our all-millennial team. When we speak to them, we tell them that the flexible packaging industry is great, and it is an industry we should be unbelievably proud of, despite all of the negative publicity. Extending shelf life for products to avoid food spoilage and feeding the world—all those things are so important from the flexible packaging side of the business. It is a great industry, and it is going to be a great industry for decades to come. If you want an excellent career in a great industry with great people, then it is the one to join. And then there is the demographic issue: A lot of the longtime, most talented people in this industry are reaching a certain age, and there is going to be a lot of backfilling that is required. Not only is it a great industry that you could be proud of, but you can also have a great career. It is not like going to work at Google where everybody is going there. You are going to be able to determine your path and the sky is the limit. 

FPV: Along the way, did you have mentors? 

DN: In my day, we did not call it mentoring. However, several people had a huge influence on me. I am the youngest of five boys, so I had a father and four older brothers who were all role models. I would not say they were mentors per se, but they showed you the way to conduct yourself personally and professionally. And there have been many people in the industry. The one common thing with all of those people is that we still maintain a close friendship to this day.