Editor’s note: This is an expanded version of an interview that appears in the July/August 2022 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 issues with an industry leader. In this segment, we interview Ken Swanson, CEO of Liquibox. The online interviews have a special focus on career advice, with recruitment and retention being a priority for FPA. In fact, FPA formed the Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) in 2020 to promote efforts to recruit new workers into the flexible packaging industry.
Swanson joined the packaging industry 30 years ago, working for CT Film/Rexene, Huntsman, Pliant Corporation, and Berry Global before joining Liquibox in 2013. “I am proud to have been a part of building businesses, which have provided jobs to many families and continue to give back to our communities,” he says. “In addition, I am so impressed with the emerging leaders in packaging today and look forward to how they will change the world with innovative, sustainable solutions.”
FlexPackVOICE®: What would be your advice for someone who is thinking about a career in the industry?
Ken Swanson: Get involved and learn about how packaging positively impacts how we live today. You will be pleasantly surprised by the dynamic leadership, innovation, unlimited career options, and global impact. And you can have a lot of fun with the satisfaction of making a difference.
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career?
KS: Early in my career, I worked at Pliant alongside several people who have become leaders in our industry. While it was a stressful and unpredictable work environment, often resembling a circus, we were resilient, formed strong bonds together, and became motivated to pursue bigger challenges. Ultimately, that experience turned out to be some of the most educational and inspirational times I have had in my career. What doesn’t kill you truly makes you stronger.
FPV: Who were your mentors?
KS: My parents. They did not have the means to pay for things like cars or college, but more importantly, they gave me the tools, opportunities, and unconditional support to achieve goals I did not think were possible. My father would dole out what I considered nonsense at the time, like “harder the climb, better the view” and “show up, get started.” I soon realized these were subtle but important work ethic clues and a road map to success. I have been inspired by mentors within our industry and from leaders outside of packaging. For instance, I have probably listened to Admiral William H. McRaven’s University of Texas 2014 commencement speech about changing the world more than 50 times.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people to fill various positions?
KS: Promote a culture of flexibility with work schedules and encourage collaboration using various contemporary formats to attract top talent. People can and will do great work in very different environments with the right support and recognition.