A Closer Look at Kasie Fairbarn

Vice President of Sales, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation

A Closer Look at Kasie Fairbarn

FlexPack VOICE® routinely hosts a question-and-answer segment with an industry leader.

In this issue, we interview Kasie Fairbarn, vice president of sales at Windmoeller & Hoelscher (W&H) Corporation. Fairbarn also is co-chair of the Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) of the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA).

Fairbarn says she got her start in the packaging industry while attending the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). “I fell for the packaging industry on a cold, wintery recruiting trip to Rochester, New York, back in January of 2001,” she says.

“Packaging science was and still is an extremely popular major at RIT and offered a mix of engineering, business, marketing, material science, etc.”

In 2018, she was recruited to join PAXXUS, Inc., the family-owned film manufacturer and converter.

“I wanted to understand how these films—ones that I’d spec’d into my products at Unilever hundreds of times—were actually made and how we could advance the flexibles sustainability story in the United States,” Fairbarn adds. “Fast forward, I’ve been with Windmoeller & Hoelscher since the end of 2021, where I now get to build on my understanding of how these films are made and work with companies to optimize their blown and cast film extrusion lines.”

She also says, “My passion is working with people and companies up and down the value chain to understand how we all interact and where we can work better together.”

FLEXPACK VOICE®: What are the major challenges facing the industry?

Kasie Fairbarn: The major challenges I’m seeing are two-fold: One, demand is shifting. The business you had lined up last year might have been lost, only for something new and different to emerge. This is requiring us all to be a little more flexible and a little more creative with our technology, equipment, and patience. We knew the industry would level out post-COVID and that is where we are now. And two, the anti-plastics movement is loud and proud these days. That means, now, more than ever, we need to support our first line of defense—FPA—as it advocates for smart legislation and our future.

FPV: Thoughts on issues with supply chains and raw materials?

KF: This one stings a little still. For us, we build machines with thousands of parts, so there was no way we were going to go unscathed as raw [materials] and part availability fluctuated during COVID-19 and long after. The result [was] some machines were delayed, some machines were delivered with missing parts, and some machines were sent in split shipments. It wasn’t optimal, to say the least. But being on the inside, I know we are stronger as a company having gone through this. I know our customer partnerships are strong, too. We were forced to work through heavy stuff to deliver bad news, to deliver good news, to keep impossible timelines, and to get machines running even after missing critical milestones and to say straight up, “I’m sorry.” Yes, I am ready to be done with supply chain issues, but I’m also confident in our ability to tackle the next challenge because we learned from this experience, created a more resilient organization, and are in a much better position moving forward.

FPV: What is your company doing to encourage recruitment and retention?

KF: At W&H Corporation, we are actively engaging with the ELC’s diversity, equity, and inclusion subcommittee. We know we are not doing enough today, which is why we are leveraging their toolbox of information and resources, so we can continue to create a more well-rounded organization that is built for tomorrow’s workforce.

FPV: What would you tell someone thinking about a career in the industry?

KF: I would tell them “Run, don’t walk.” Interestingly, if you look at the ELC’s makeup, a large majority of members have experience at CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies, like me. But something ultimately led them to our industry. That says a lot. People might not start here, but they seem to end here. My youngest brother, Kam, just graduated from UMass Lowell with a plastics engineering degree. I’m obviously putting the full-court press on him to join our industry where he will be able to tackle the anti-plastics sentiment head-on while knowing he is supporting an already incredibly sustainable packaging format. We will see where he ultimately ends up, but at least I made a strong case for him in flexibles where there continues to be incredible opportunity for growth and impact.

FPV: Have you had mentors?

KF: I have been fortunate to have had two significant mentors in the flexible packaging industry. Dwane Hahn, chief strategy officer and vice president of sales and marketing at PAXXUS, Inc., taught me how important it is to always be truthful with customers, even when delivering bad news, and the importance of being in front of customers. He also taught me how to carefully vet opportunities and how to turn down ones that are not a good fi t—a hard thing to do when you’re in sales but often the right thing to do. The other person is Andrew Wheeler, president at Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation. Andrew taught me and continues to teach me the value of authenticity, fairness, and partnership. We have some significant customer partnerships at W&H that are in large part due to Andrew. I am thankful to have been strongly influenced by both industry leaders.

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

KF: Look outside your traditional candidate pool and recruit, recruit, recruit. When I was offered the job at W&H, I was told that no recruiter had ever presented a female for my position. This blew my mind. How could that even be possible? W&H was able to look beyond a “traditional” candidate because I am not your typical capital-equipment salesperson, as a mom of five elementary-age children. I might not have been a typical hire, but I like to think I opened a world of hiring possibilities for many to see.

FPV: Anything to add?

KF: I was recently nominated by my peers and selected to co-chair the ELC with Jonathan Quinn, vice president of marketing and sustainability at Accredo Packaging Inc. I took over from Adrianne Tipton, chief technology officer at Novolex, and am thankful I had such a wonderful leader to observe and learn from before taking the reins myself. I get excited when I talk about ELC. Among the 50-plus active members and the initiatives our four committees are driving, I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this group and optimistic about the value we will continue to bring to the industry.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on September 6, 2023, with the new title for Adrianne Tipton.