Emerging Leaders Discuss Careers

Members of the FPA Emerging Leadership Council See Vast Opportunities

Digital Exclusive

The industry doesn’t have to look far when it comes to showing career development and interest. Several members of the FPA Emerging Leadership Council (ELC) discuss what got them into the industry and how their careers have gone so far. 

Abbey Phillips, American Packaging Corp., senior product development engineer

Abbey Phillips grew up in Avon, New York, just outside of Rochester, where she attended Rochester Institute of Technology and studied packaging science, graduating in 2016.

Phillips understands how internships can help a career, having had three internships/co-ops within the packaging world while in school. The first involved packaging design at Fisher-Price, where she developed solutions for e-commerce and retail items. She then had a rotation at Mondelēz International, working with its confections packaging team. At Caskers, she spent a summer focusing on brand management and e-commerce. 

“Each experience prepared me for my career in different ways,” Phillips says. “The most valuable take away was the overall exposure to different product types and ways of working at different organizations.”

FPV: Tell us about how you got into the industry and what that first job was like.

AP: I went into college studying packaging science because it was the perfect balance of technical problem solving skills and consumer/brand interaction. I took my first job out of school at Mondelēz International, where I had done a co-op as a packaging engineer. My first role was great. I was fortunate to be exposed to many packaging formats/materials, packaging equipment, and how brands operate. Working with cross-functional teams, I learned how an idea comes to life on the store shelf. I was exposed to material suppliers, packaging facilities, and collaboration partners, all of which help me to this day when developing solutions for a variety of customers/products.

FPV: How has your career advanced? And what do you do now?

I have spent time as a packaging engineer for a multinational consumer packaged goods (CPG) company working on iconic brands and now have moved to the converter side. I am a senior product development engineer, working to design solutions for various customers across different market segments and drive growth through packaging.

FPV: Do you see yourself staying in the industry, if not the same job, for the rest of your career? 

AP: I do. Packaging is an ever-changing industry and the future is exciting. I am the person you don’t want to grocery shop with because I want to stop and survey each item’s package. I can’t imagine working in a different industry. Over the next five years, I see my career continuing to progress into the consumer and strategy space, really driving the value of packaging’s role for brands and consumers.

FPV: Who were your mentors and how have they helped you?

I credit a lot of success to my first boss, Rachel Leichte, section manager, Mondelēz International. She provided challenges and opportunities that helped me grow both technically and in business acumen. Additionally, Karen Proctor, professor of packaging science at RIT, is a go-to who lends great perspective on challenges and the packaging industry as a whole. 

FPV: What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a career in the industry? What do you see as opportunities? Any downsides?

Take advantage of any opportunity to see or learn, to ask questions, and to find your niche.

The industry is growing and here to stay. There are so many different facets you can get into. Although we may be a broad industry, it is a close-knit community; it’s great to be a part of. The industry is continually evolving and changing at a rapid pace—that may concern some, but I find being a part of those challenges is exciting.

Amy Presher, Profol, sales manager

Amy Presher, who grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, earned a B.S. in packaging science in 2012 and an MBA from Clemson University in 2018.

While applying to Clemson, she says, she had no idea what she wanted to do but selected packaging on her application. 

“It turned out to be a great fit for me,” says Presher, who was on the Clemson Rifle Team and won a National Championship in 2010. “While in school, I was a packaging development co-op at Kraft Foods where I focused on flexible packaging for the cheese and dairy segment. I went back the next summer and continued working in the same group and landed there full time after graduation.”

She worked on projects spanning several packaging types, including a patent on a shipping case for stand-up pouches, and she mostly worked on flexibles. 

“This was great exposure to working with equipment vendors, suppliers, plant sites, and product launches,” she says, adding that the experience led her to continue in the flexible packaging industry. “My management and team members were phenomenal. It instilled into me the importance of making time for professional development, asking for opportunities, and that I am in the driver’s seat of my career.”

Presher moved back to Greenville, South Carolina, after a stint in Chicago.

FPV: How has your career advanced? And what do you do now?

AP: I moved into technical research and development roles at Sealed Air Corporation and then Mitsubishi Polyester Film. I worked on my MBA at night because I wanted to start learning more about the business side. I then made the switch into sales at Mitsubishi. I am currently the sales manager at Profol Americas, where I am focused on growing value-add cast polyolefins in the packaging market. Having both CPG and a technical background helps me better understand my customers to drive creative solutions.

FPV: Do you see yourself staying in the industry, if not the same job, for the rest of your career? 

AP: I absolutely see myself staying in the flexible packaging industry. This industry stays exciting, and there is no shortage of new experiences and technologies to learn. Yet, at the same time, you can build lifelong relationships with colleagues, customers, and suppliers and continue to work with the same people in different capacities as your career progresses. I am newer to the sales side and continue to learn every day. I believe cross-functional moves are invaluable experiences in shaping your career and look forward to those next opportunities.

FPV: Who were your mentors and how have they helped you?

AP: I try to have mentors that are both internal and external to the organization. Externally, I maintain a mentor relationship with someone from my early career and a local business professional outside of packaging. My mentors have pushed me to take risks and advocate for my career. They helped me understand that my frustrations were rooted in my personal values and expectations not aligning with an organization—and that this is OK. Ultimately, that has led me to take risks in career moves and start progressing my career in the direction I desire.

FPV: What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a career in the industry? What do you see as the opportunities? Any downsides?

AP: Jump in. The flexible packaging industry is evolving every day. Working in flexibles is a great way to get out and work alongside the entire supply chain and make cross-functional moves if you desire. It is also a hands-on industry and will allow you to travel extensively if you wish. Currently, food packaging is not considered a single-use plastic, so it is not facing bans in certain areas. The industry will continue to keep an eye on these regulations as they continue to morph. No matter your function, flexibles is a great industry that will not go stale.

Jonathan Quinn, Pregis, director of market development and sustainability, formally with NOVA Chemicals, Inc.

Jonathan Quinn grew up around the flexible packaging industry, with his father holding various president and CEO positions at different companies.

“I have pictures of me in a box of resin when I was two, and I was doing elongation testing by the time I was five,” says Quinn, whose grandfather was a press operator. “Flexible packaging is in my blood, as I am the third generation of my family in the industry. I guess you could say I was born into it.”

Quinn graduated from Clemson University in 2008 with degrees in packaging science and business management. 

“I had multiple internships during my time at Clemson and they all were in the packaging industry and focused on the flexible packaging industry, as well,” he says.

He interned for Pregis U.K. in England as a sales and marketing intern. He also was an intern for Scholle Europe as a packaging engineer in Breda, Holland. 

“My last internship was with Pliant Corp., which is now part of Berry Global, in Schaumburg, Illinois, as a marketing intern,” Quinn adds. “This internship was where I was awarded an FPA scholarship and became first aware of the FPA.”

He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Molly, his daughter, Emerson, and his son, Greyson. 

FPV: How has your career advanced? And what do you do now?

JQ: My career has been a journey, and it has prepared me for my newest chapter with Pregis as the director of market development and sustainability. My current role was made possible because of the roles and responsibilities I had before. I am so proud to be a part of the Pregis team and what we are building. We are delivering a game changing customer experience with su stainability at the forefront of everything that we do. Our focus on sustainability impacts the products we deliver to our customers, plants we operate, and communities in which we live. I get the opportunity to lead our efforts associated with marketing/market development and sustainability associated with our flexible packaging business. 

FPV: Do you see yourself staying in the industry, if not the same job, for the rest of your career? 

JQ: Yes. I am a flexible packaging industry lifer. Moving forward I hope to continue to contribute to the growth of my current company and help other members of my new team achieve their personal growth goals and objectives.

FPV: Who were/are your mentors and how have they helped you?

JQ: I have two main mentors in my life thus far: my dad, John Quinn, and Greg Gard, who was senior vice president of research and development at Pliant Corp., which is now part of Berry Global. He hired me as an intern, which allowed me to recieve an FPA scholarship. My dad instilled my passion for the packaging industry from a very young age. But more broadly, he impressed on me that great people are the single most valuable asset any company has—and without them you have nothing. On top of that, he taught me how important it is for people to know they’re valued, through your actions and your words. Greg guided me early in my career when I was facing some challenges to figure out how I wanted to be remembered—and then always behaving in ways that are true to that. My mission since then is to be remembered as the guy who positively impacted people’s lives.

FPV: What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a career in the industry? What do you see as the opportunities? Any downsides?

JQ: Let’s go! Come grow with us. The flexible packaging industry provides people with an opportunity like no other. At the end of the day, flexible packaging makes everyday life possible —there is no way around that. I would first recommend doing an internship within the industry. Doing real work at an organization will help students determine whether they want a more technical, operational, or commercial career; help them develop industry contacts; and may lead to a job offer. Another main focus should be on building a broad network of connections and looking for coaches and mentors who can guide them in their career. 

The downside to the industry is also an opportunity. We are at a critical point right now when it comes to the sustainability conversation. Flexible plastic packaging is being villainized right now for a variety of reasons but, ultimately, flexible plastic packaging is the most sustainable solution. The opportunity is to be a part of the solution driving toward sustainable packaging and finding ways to have constructive conversations with our friends and families to educate them on the value flexible packaging brings. It is giving them data points. For example, if you were to remove 10 million pounds of plastic packaging, it would take more than 40 million pounds of alternative materials. 

This is an industry that is not going anywhere and will be making everyday life possible for consumers for many many years to come.