Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of an interview that appears in the Sept./Oct. issue of FlexPack VOICE®. The printed article can be found online, too, in the digital format of the full magazine.
In 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 Catherine Heckman, business unit director—North America, laminating, adhesives and coatings at Ashland, a global specialty materials company.
FlexPack VOICE®: Talk a little bit about what got you into the industry and why you chose it as a career path?
CH: So, I got my start in the label industry through a want ad in the local paper for a PSA (pressure sensitive adhesive) product manager. I think I just dated myself. Not having any awareness about the label industry, I remember hearing about industry dynamic—like how big Fasson (now Avery) was—and thought this could be fun. Over the years, I managed almost all the PSA product lines, and 10 years ago, I started working in the flexible packaging segment, which I have found to be just as enjoyable and a great learning experience. And I continue to learn. I have made many friends over the years and believe the industry chose me before I chose it as a career path. I just kept making my way down that path, meeting great friends along the way.
FPV: Along those lines, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
CH: I started my career over 30 years ago as product manager for Technicote, and over the years have worked for a few other PSA coaters—from a start-up, entrepreneurial company, CCG Films, as well as a Fortune 500 organization (Avery) with a sprinkling of film and chemical manufacturing experience.
FPV: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry if they were to ask for your advice?
CH: Jump in with both feet. You will never believe how many long-lasting friendships you will gain and how you will always be learning. Once you are in, you won’t want to leave the industry. And—you will not believe your good fortune that you can make a career out of a really interesting industry.
FPV: Is there a particular experience that stands out in your career, good or bad, or both?
CH: My first job is the standout experience. I was new to the label industry and about seven months in, my boss gives me the opportunity of a lifetime—build a business from the ground floor, which included a brand-new product line, production parameters, customer base, etc. And I got to build it on my own terms. Fast forward five years, it had $12 million in revenue and was highly profitable.
FPV: Who was your mentor (or mentors) and why was she or he important?
CH: My mentor was my boss later in my career who had already had a couple of decades in the industry—many of those years owning a company that merged with a global company. He helped me hone my negotiation skills and taught me that, regardless of what it says on the organization chart, everyone is valuable and important to our success. And always carry yourself with grace and confidence.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people to fill various positions?
CH: You don’t have to always hire from the industry. It is not always the experience that will deliver success to the business. Hire individuals who have a desire and hunger to learn and grow in a fast-paced, dynamic business.