A Closer Look at Weston Harcourt

Weston Harcourt, Strategic Account Manager, Sonoco Products Company

A Closer Look at Weston Harcourt

In each issue, FlexPack VOICE® hosts a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader. In this issue, we talk to Weston Harcourt, strategic account manager at Sonoco Products Company, a $7 billion diversified packaging company, and co-chair of the Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA). 

As strategic account manager at Sonoco, Harcourt works in the company’s thermoformed and flexible packaging division supporting several key consumer packaged goods relationships. 

“I graduated from Purdue University with a degree in technology, leadership, and innovation, which is a degree that combines industrial technology with business,” Harcourt says. “Later, I completed my MBA with the University of Illinois, specializing in mergers and acquisitions.” 

His career started in procurement, which is how he was introduced to the flexible packaging industry through his role in supply management as the films category manager for the flexibles division. 

“I entered the role at the beginning of COVID- 19,” he adds. “As a result of my role and its heightened importance during COVID, it wasn’t long before I ingrained myself into the business.” 

While he says he was intrigued by flexible packaging, what drew him to flexibles was the leadership team at Sonoco. 

“Over time, as I’ve built relationships with other converters, suppliers, and upstream suppliers through FPA and the ELC, my sense of purpose and place within flexibles has expanded into the industry,” Harcourt says. 

Harcourt recently agreed to an interview with FlexPack VOICE®; his answers are lightly edited for style and clarity. 

FlexPackVOICE®: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry? 

Weston Harcourt: The flexible packaging industry isn’t for everyone. Those who succeed are smart, value relationships, know how to manage details and complexity, have an inquisitive mindset, and are capable of seeing perspectives outside of their own. The industry has a lot to offer. It feels small and, therefore, navigable. However, it is represented by a diverse group of companies ranging from Fortune 500 corporations to family-owned businesses that don’t break eight figures in annual revenue. Flexible packaging has proven resilient to economic uncertainty. 

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

WH: Two years ago, I pivoted from supply management to a commercial role, which meant putting off taking on more responsibility in the near term to set myself up for greater responsibility in the long term. My recommendation is to surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear—not what you want to hear—and trust them. 

FPV: Tell us about your work with the ELC. 

WH: I joined the ELC three years ago as a member of the advocacy committee, then later was elected to vice chair of advocacy; chair of advocacy; and now co-chair of the ELC. As incoming co-chair, I have a few key goals. First, how do we punch above our weight? This could mean working on fewer, larger projects that deliver the most impact. Second, how do we recognize our members? I’ve always felt appreciated as a member of the ELC, but how do we get more specific and highlight individuals and their impact? Finally, it’s important to me that member companies understand what the ELC is and what it isn’t. The ELC isn’t a “young professionals’ group.” Age has nothing to do with eligibility. The ELC is a group of professionals who are at the same point in the career maturity cycle; they’re seen as high-performance, high-potential individuals, who are expected to lead at an executive level. If the ELC is staffed properly by FPA’s member companies, in 10–15 years, the FPA’s board and executive committee could be dominated by ELC alumni. 

FPV: Who were your mentors? 

WH: I have many mentors formally and informally; some are with Sonoco and some in the industry. When it comes to managing a career, I think it’s important to know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor and to identify both. A sponsor has influence within your organization or industry, cares about you as a person, and sees your value not just in your current role but in future roles years down the road. Sponsors push you upward in the organization or industry. A mentor is someone whom you can discuss anything with and get feedback from. At Sonoco, formal mentors are outside the division you support, which allows them to see situations from a unique vantage point. 

FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager? 

WH: Leverage assessment tools to place people. We often talk about how we attract people to the industry, but I’m equally concerned with how we find the right people for the right roles. Assessments have become more mainstream in the past five to 10 years, but their use as a compass in placing people isn’t used widely enough. Additionally, find a personality test, and become a student of it. For me, it’s DiSC Profiles (this tool is based on the four profiles: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness). By becoming effective at identifying personality types, you can use that along with intuition to begin building a talent funnel. 

FPV: What do you see as the major challenges facing the industry in 2024? 

WH: I think one of the biggest challenges we face as an industry is being recognized for our value and expertise, especially as it relates to sustainability. This is a highly complex and technical industry. We are the subject matter experts, and yet I see companies following customers down technology paths that have an expiration date. While it’s our shared goal as an industry to delight the customer, it concerns me that we don’t challenge our customer’s direction enough, which has resulted in the stratification of sustainable solution philosophies. This is improving, however, as the market naturally consolidates to a couple of key solutions. 

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

WH: Solutions are out there. While adoption rates among end users are climbing, challenges with infrastructure, and what we expect the consumer to know/do are major gaps. While our industry can’t single-handedly resolve those challenges, I’m encouraged to see that alignment on sustainable solutions has started to form. Industry alignment is critical as it consolidates focus, which more rapidly commoditizes new raw materials. Simultaneously, it isolates which infrastructure technologies are needed to successfully build a circular economy.