Editor’s Note: This is an expanded version of an interview with Stan Bikulege that appears in the May/June 2021 issue of FlexPack VOICE®. The printed article can be found online, too, in the digital format of the full magazine.
FlexPack VOICE®: What got you into the flexible packaging industry and why did you choose it as a career path?
Stan Bikulege: When I was starting out, I admit my focus was more about getting a job than what the job was. I was pretty pragmatic. But as I learned the ropes, I learned to love the packaging business—the people in it, the customers we served and the everyday benefits our products provide consumers. Packaging touches so much of people’s lives. The industry really makes a difference.
FPV: What would you tell someone who is thinking about a career in the industry if they were asking for your advice?
SB: Packaging is part of everyone’s life, even if it’s not top of mind. Just think about the role of packaging. It supports virtually every industry that needs a vessel to hold a product, ship a product, protect a product. As those products evolve, so must our industry and that, in turn, opens the door for new job market entrants to step up and contribute. Here, too, FPA’s doing the right thing through its Emerging Leadership Council and acknowledging the importance of attracting and retaining younger people in our industry.
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?
SB: If the position requires a specific skill, of course, look for someone who brings that skill set to the job. But it’s just as important to look beyond that immediate need. Good companies need creative people and problem solvers, have discipline, are eager to learn, and can adapt. These may sound like platitudes. But I’m not hiring that skilled person for that job in perpetuity. I want someone who can do that job but then move on to the next one and the one after that. Otherwise, my investment in their development isn’t paying off. I can’t predict which particular skill he or she will need. But if they have those other abilities they can learn and grow. Novolex will benefit but, just as importantly, they’ll have a truly satisfying career with change that cannot be predicted the day they start. Diversity is key, as well, when looking for talent. A diverse workforce makes us a stronger, better, and nimbler company.
FPV: What about someone who is hiring for a sales position? Any different advice?
SB: I’d say a salesperson needs most of those same skills. Perhaps so-called customer focus is an added attribute. But, even there, having a good relationship with a customer is half about listening. And good listening skills are key for many other jobs as well.
FPV: Who were your mentors?
SB: My mother and father taught me the most important fundamentals—the importance of hard work, treating people with respect, the importance of education, and having faith. Also, Dave Abbott, who was chair of Exopack when I was brought in as president and CEO, gave me my first chance as a CEO and has stood by me in good times and bad. He was a mentor before that concept became a thing.