Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of an interview with Kathy Bolhous that appears in the January/February 2021 issue of FlexPack VOICE™.
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 and what advice they would offer about careers.
Kathy Bolhous is CEO of Charter Next Generation and the 2021 chair of the Flexible Packaging Association. She has been a board member at FPA since 2011.
FlexPack VOICE™: What got you into the flexible packaging industry and why did you choose it as a career path?
KB: I took a temp job at a company called Donnelly Mirror. I started at the bottom and applied myself completely to whatever task I was given. I viewed every opportunity as a stepping-stone. In time, my positive attitude and hard work got me noticed, and I was invited into the company’s management training program. From there, I rotated through roles like quality engineer, production manager, materials planner and, eventually, plant manager—often the first woman ever to do these jobs at Donnelly. I left Donnelly in my mid-30s to take a general manager position at Cascade Engineering—a privately-owned injection molder. My success there led to me being recruited as VP/GM of the packaging business at Appleton Paper. Appleton Paper sold the packaging business to our first private equity owner in 2010.
FPV: Who was your mentor and why was she or he important?
KB: One of the people who made a big difference was my very first boss. During a performance review he said, “I see tremendous potential in you. I think you have the ability to go far beyond your current position.” I read and reread that review many times over the next several years. Those words gave me strength during the toughest days of my early career. As a leader myself now, I try to pay it forward and do the same for others. By taking the time to coach, mentor, or otherwise nurture the next generation of talent, I can inspire them to achieve their full potential.
FPV: What advice would you give to a hiring manager who is seeking people with a technical background about what they should be looking for in a hire?
KB: As an innovation-driven company, technical expertise is imperative at CNG. Our technical folks—in product design, manufacturing, IT, and more—are the wizards who allow us to create the best performing films in the market, including those with sustainable properties. They need the skill and desire to push the envelope. A cultural fit, for a technical or any hire, is also important. In our case, it’s a focus on teamwork, positive attitude, and the drive to always find a better way.
FPV: What about someone who is hiring for a sales position? Any different advice?
KB: In addition to fitting-in culturally, salespeople need to be relationship builders and true partners to our customers. We look for people who are willing to really dig-in and understand the challenges our customers are facing. They also need to be team players—able to collaborate across functions, like technical and customer service, to define and deliver solutions. At CNG, we win as a team. And I find that employees who understand that ‘we’re in this together’ have more success.
FPV: Anything you would like to say about your family?
KB: I’ve been married to my husband, Rod, for 39 years. We have two adult daughters, Megan and Margaret, and one grandson, Grant. As a two-career couple, it wasn’t always easy to balance the demands of work and family life while raising our girls. A supportive partner makes all the difference.