Editor’s note: Over the next year, FlexPack VOICE® will feature a short profile on a member of the FPA team based in Annapolis, Maryland. “Meet the FPA Staff” is a way for you to get to know those you work with in a more personal way. Alison Keane, FPA president and CEO, is taking the lead with this first in the occasional series.
FlexPack VOICE®: Tell us a little bit about yourself—where you are from and went to school—or anything you would like to say along those lines.
Alison Keane: I was born and raised in Maryland. I grew up in Bowie and, after law school, moved back here. I live a five-minute drive or 15-minute walk from the house I grew up in, which is nice, as it enables my mother to continue living in that house as we are nearby to help. I went to St. Mary’s College of Maryland for my undergrad, which is in marine biology. I went to law school in San Francisco, California, at Golden Gate University and studied environmental law. Between undergrad and law school, I did a year of service in Phoenix, Arizona, with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
FPV: What was your career path and how did you end up at FPA?
AK: I moved back home after law school with my husband, who I had met in Arizona. This was in 1994, and jobs were hard to come by, particularly in the government sector, which is where I always thought I would be. I studied for the bar and kept an eye out for openings at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and with federal contractors in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.) My mother ended up having a conversation with our state senator at church one Sunday, and he hired me as his legislative aide about a week later. Sen. Leo Green was vice-chair of Judiciary, so not my first choice, since that committee doesn’t hear environmental related policy. But I took the first job that came my way, and it was at least in the policy arena, which is where I wanted to be. I made so little money that I ended up working for the senator’s law firm at night and on the weekends to pay my law school loans.
After five years, I took a job with an EPA contractor. When that contract was up, I was still looking for EPA-related work and was hired by the American Coatings Association (ACA) as a counsel in its government affairs division. My duties were all related to EPA regulation and state/federal environmental legislation. I was not familiar with association work, but my interview with my soon-to-be boss lasted about two hours because we had such a great conversation. He told me something that sticks with me today—there are thousands of associations in the DMV, and it is easier to teach a person about the industry than to teach them government relations. I already had the experience at the state and federal levels with both legislation and regulation, so David Lloyd, my mentor, said he would teach me about paint, and he did. I ended up being promoted to his job, vice president of government affairs, when he retired. One year, in the middle of my 16 with ACA, I went to work for EPA headquarters in its policy office. I found out very quickly that I did not like being a civil servant and was grateful that the door was still open for me back at ACA.
FPV: Talk a little bit about your duties with FPA. What do you like best and what are some of the challenges going forward?
AK: I get the best of both worlds at FPA. We are a small association, with only five staff. I say we are small but mighty, however; we represent a $33.6 billion industry. I not only get to continue to represent an industry as the primary staff person for government affairs, but I also get to further my association career by taking the helm and learning all the things you need to do in the top position. As president and CEO, this not only includes all budget and staffing decisions but board communication and leadership development for the industry. I also now have a hand in promotion and research, things that were not in my purview before taking over when my predecessor retired at FPA five years ago.
FPV: What do you like to do when you are not working? Any hobbies, interests, or anything along those lines? Do you have a favorite sports team?
AK: I love to travel, and I am lucky that at least prior to the pandemic, I get to do a lot through FPA. I love photography and art and that goes well with my love of travel. At home, I do a lot of gardening. And growing up and going to school on the Chesapeake, we love anything water related. We don’t currently own a boat, but we do belong to the Eastport Yacht Club. And again, prior to the pandemic, we spent a lot of time there. I sit on its Environmental Committee, which is in charge of Clean Regattas, water quality monitoring, and oyster restoration, among other things for the club. My favorite team is the Redskins—or whatever we are calling them these days. They have always been my team, and I can remember watching games as a little kid with my dad. We have been season ticket holders since the new stadium was built in Landover, Maryland, and tickets became available. Prior to that, even when we lived in San Francisco, we were on the waiting list. My neighbors in SF said they never had to watch a game. All they had to do was listen to my screaming and they would know who was winning and who was losing. This was always really funny at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
FPV: Anything that you would like to say about your family?
AK: My family and I are very close. I lost my father to cancer when I was 11, and my mother raised three girls on her own from that time on. It is one of the reasons I moved back home from California—there was never a question about taking the California bar exam and staying out there. We always knew it was a temporary stop. At about the time we moved back, my sisters were starting to have their kids, and we are all still within a two-hour drive. My nieces and nephews are, for the most part, grown up and have moved to various places, such as Alaska, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and New York, but we continue to get together for most of the holidays. Last year was the first year that my husband and I celebrated Christmas in our own house—ever. Luckily, my mother has been in our bubble through the pandemic, and we were able to protect her while protecting ourselves. But it has been very hard not getting together with the extended family as we would usually do.
FPV: Anything that you would like to add?
AK: I am so thrilled to represent this important industry. They are so innovative and doing so many important things from an environmental standpoint—things that the average consumer would never know—from reductions in greenhouse gasses from packaging manufacturing and transportation to generating less waste, not just from packaging, but from food waste and product loss, as well. Anyone in this space says that you can never shop the same again, and that is true, even when it comes to ordering online or getting take out, you will always be evaluating and thinking about the packaging. My friends and family now take pictures and send me articles on packaging—like, “did you see this?” It is an exciting industry, and I am happy to be part of it.