Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of an interview that appears in the November/December issue of FlexPack VOICE®. The printed article can be found online, too, in the digital format of the full magazine.
Each issue, as well as occasionally in a digital exclusive, FlexPack VOICE® hosts a question-and-answer segment that discusses important issues with an industry leader. The digital features often will have a closer look at how leaders got into the industry. In this segment, we interview David M. Staker, CEO and president, Plastic Packaging Technologies, LLC (PPT).
FlexPack VOICE®: Talk a little bit about what got you into the industry and why you chose it as a career path.
David Staker: I often remark that I didn’t choose flexible packaging—it chose me. The long story short is that my brother, Dan, and I were always very entrepreneurial and wanted to ultimately own and operate a business together. I was just getting into full stride in my career as a young corporate lawyer, and he was a civil engineer, and alongside a local group of investors, we stumbled upon an opportunity to buy what was at the time a small and struggling family-owned packaging business that today has grown into PPT. It’s been a rewarding journey thus far, as we’ve surrounded ourselves with a talented team of smart, motivated people. We’re really excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for PPT and our industry.
FPV: What is the industry doing well and where does it need to be better?
DS: The industry is making significant progress in delivering recyclable packaging solutions through innovative new film structures, as well as new packaging formats and features integrating technology, such as resins and coatings that deliver the same or better performance with less material (i.e., source reduction). Like a few others in the industry, we at PPT have successfully commercialized a line of 100% recyclable pouches and rollstock under the Thrive® brand, and we are delivering packaging formats comprised of post-consumer recycled content, as well. As an industry, I know we are unequivocally committed to being part of the solution to the end-of-life challenges that have plagued multi-layer laminated structures, in particular. Where I believe we need to continue to work harder is in our messaging, education, and advocacy of flexible packaging as among the most, if not the most, sustainable forms of packaging from a perspective of the total life cycle and carbon footprint. Plastics tend to be grouped into, and fall victim to, the negative narratives and anti-plastics campaigns, and the data really tell an entirely different story. To ultimately solve what has been, in my opinion, mislabeled a plastics problem, we need to solve waste recovery and infrastructure issues, as well as education and behaviors.
FPV: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry if they were to ask for your advice?
DS: Flexibles is a strong and growing industry in which varied career opportunities are abundant. As an industry, we’re fortunate to have so many great organizations and people contributing to growth and innovation, and it has a great future as a vital component in the supply chain to so many end-use markets and industries. While many industries, particularly in manufacturing, are seeing decline and consolidation, packaging continues to grow and has a bright future with the emergence of e-commerce and many other favorable trends.
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career, good or bad, or both?
DS: Making the decision and taking the leap of faith to jump from a traditional, professional career to a very hands-on, entrepreneurial operating role within a small business certainly stands out. There were some intensely challenging years early on, but it’s been extraordinarily rewarding to see the team at PPT mature and grow into an industry leader.
FPV: Who were your mentors?
DS: I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors along my journey—in law, investments, and in the flexibles industry. I’m grateful to each of them for not only modeling and teaching effective leadership, and sharing business and operating strategies, but instilling in me the confidence that I could take on the next challenges and inspiring me to always think bigger. Remarkably, I’ve found so many people within the industry, through the FPA, who have taken an interest in helping us along our journey, seeing us grow and develop, for which I’ve very appreciative.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people to fill various positions?
DS: Be persistent, but very patient, to find the right person. Be clear about what you’re really needing and what the expectations are for the role and person. Too often, we so badly want that next candidate to be the “one.” And, in my experience, you really have to have a disciplined process you adhere to—and work diligently to make sure—that you are hiring the right people, not only with the requisite talent, skills, and abilities, but most importantly the right character. We look for hungry, humble and smart people.