Each issue, FlexPack VOICE™ hosts a question-and-answer segment that discusses industry issues with an industry leader. This month we query Curt Begle, president of Berry Global’s health, hygiene, and specialties division, a $3 billion global business within the company. Begle joined Berry in 1999 and has spent his entire career with the firm, rising through various positions of increasing responsibility. He served as president of Berry’s rigid closed top division from 2009–2014 and was president of the engineered materials division from 2014–2018. Begle holds Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of Evansville-Indiana and an MBA from the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. His industry involvement includes serving on the board of directors for FPA since 2016, and he is now serving as the chairperson of the board of directors for FPA.
FlexPack Voice: What do you see as the major issues facing the industry in 2020, globally and/or domestically? What are the long-term challenges for the industry?
Begle: It’s no surprise that sustainability is at the top of the list for major opportunities in 2020 and beyond. The incorporation of Post-Consumer Regrind (PCR) and/or bio-based materials provides challenges on the manufacturing side but also provides opportunities for our customers as they work to achieve their sustainability goals.
The general perception of plastics has been increasingly negative, and, as the industry, it is our responsibility to educate the public on the benefits that plastics provide. As an example, plastics have a lower carbon footprint than that of alternative substrates—up to four times less, in fact. These materials are extremely versatile and critical in preventing food waste. That being said, we have an opportunity to design more products for recyclability and enabling more PE [polyethylene] films to be collected and recycled.
In terms of recycling, for both the near and long term, the United States is faced with an infrastructure hurdle. Our recycling system is inadequate. The true path for a circular economy is to build this infrastructure up. Our industry can assist this initiative by providing easy-to-recycle items to the marketplace and reduce confusion to the consumer by working closely with local communities to increase education on recycling. Regardless of your individual means, we all have the power and responsibility to act.
FPV: The trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, and China will start to take effect this year. Any thoughts on what will happen as it pertains to the industry?
Begle: Uncertainty in trade is never beneficial. While the objectives of the tariffs with China could benefit the U.S., the current environment is costly in terms of the duties and overall business planning. On the positive side, we believe these agreements will offer competitive advantages in terms of our ability to purchase raw materials. We are certain to see an upward trend for the imported goods used in the flexible packaging industry.
FPV: How do you see government regulations as they pertain to the industry? What should change?
Begle: Late last year, we countered campaigns by industry peers for state laws that take away the power of local governments to ban or tax packaging. We believe these bans do not address the root cause of the plastic-waste issue. It simply covers up the problem. As a company, we believe in protecting the rights of communities and promoting education in recycling and waste management over these broad-brush bans.
FPV: How important is it, and in what ways should the industry promote sustainability?
Begle: It is of critical importance that our industry promotes sustainability and the benefits of plastics. In comparison, alternative substrates have up to four times more greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainability is a top demand of our customers. As a partner, we remain focused on advancing our products to meet these demands.
FPV: Talk a little bit about what got you into the flexible packaging industry and why you chose it as a career path.
Begle: I’ve been fortunate to spend my entire career with Berry in multiple facets. This includes many years in sales and leadership roles for both rigid and flexible plastic packaging. The industry dynamics are exciting and continue to motivate me to challenge the status quo. My greatest reward has been the cultivation of meaningful relationships both internally and externally.
FPV: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry if they were to ask for your advice?
Begle: Our industry demands talented individuals who are prepared to carry on the legacy of innovation and drive, which many in our industry possess. If you are personally driven and competitive, then you should embrace the opportunity to be part of the next generation of this solution-
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career?
Begle: One of the most memorable experiences at Berry was the day we transitioned from a private equity portfolio company to a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Although both types of ownership vary in degrees of challenges, our mission to deliver value to our shareholders has always remained a constant.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people with a technical background about what they should be looking for in a hire?
Begle: When seeking new talent, we evaluate a number of attributes—expertise in their field, a competitive drive, and team-oriented. After those boxes are checked, the most critical consideration is the fit to the culture of the company. The candidate must enhance the positive chemistry of the team they will be working with on a daily basis.