Rose Van Nieuwenhuyzen
CEO and president, Waverly Plastics Co.
Rose Van Nieuwenhuyzen, 64, is CEO and president of Waverly Plastics Co. Inc. in Waverly, Iowa. She was born in southwestern Minnesota and grew up on a dairy farm, driving a tractor at age 12, milking cows in the summer months and gathering eggs daily. She assisted with picking and preserving the garden produce and helped cook for the family of eight.
She worked as materials manager for a PVC sheeting maker for 13 years before becoming sales manager in 1983 for American Western Corp. in Sioux Falls, S.D., which through a series of acquisitions eventually became part of Berry Plastics Group Inc. She joined Waverly Plastics in 1992 as sales manager and was promoted to her current positions in 1996.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: In 1970, I worked in seven of the eight departments at a company that manufactured vinyl products for advertising specialties. From heat sealing, hot stamping, silk screening, running a printing press, warehouse and shipping, I was promoted to office work, where I progressed from receptionist to inventory control, customer service, office management, purchasing manager, and eventually materials manager for the entire operation. My only interest in plastics at that time was a paycheck.
Q: What was your greatest achievement?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: In 1992, when I received the call from a previous mentor of mine in the plastic bag business, Waverly Plastics was a 2-year-old, struggling (failing) company. Since I took over the company, it is now a 25-year-old thriving company, with customers all over the U.S., and a great reputation for quality and service to all of our customers. And a great employer for the community.
Q: What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: In 1983, after 13 years with my first employer, I didn't recognize that all of my acquired knowledge at the company (in the 13 different positions I held in that 13 years) was becoming a threat of sorts to the boss (second-generation family ownership/management). After I escaped to another career, I looked back at this and decided that his insecurity was self-inflicted and not my responsibility. So [I decided] that if I ever became the top executive of a company, I would not treat knowledgeable employees as threats to my ego, but as contributors to a successful organization.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: Competing with China and other countries around the globe who pay workers very low salaries and then also have the benefit of much lower polyethylene resin prices. North American resin producers keep using U.S. producers as their “high-margin” customers. This is our biggest challenge in staying in the film and bag business and maintaining any kind of reasonable margins.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: We are on the cutting edge of participating with supermarkets in some really neat, somewhat confidential new technology in the area of energy-efficiencies as it relates to produce bags, of all things!
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: That North American resin companies continue to [keep us at] such a disadvantage on the world stage in terms of resin costs. Also, that there is so much misconception about plastics bags vs. paper or other products, as they relate to the environment.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: My immediate boss, a vice president at my previous bag company, said to one of my then-sales employees when I started my new venture with Waverly Plastics, “Don't worry about Rose going to Waverly Plastics. That company won't last another year.” Twenty-four years later, we are still in business and still having a lot of fun making and marketing plastic bags! So, this isn't really advice I directly received, but I've always been the type of personality that goes all-out to prove to someone that predictions of my failure are my best opportunities to prove my success.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: There will always be a need for plastics. Just keep welcoming new ideas and have an open mind to what might seem to others as bizarre or impossible. Never say, “It can't be done,” without exhausting all possibilities to get it done.
Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: John Mulligan, former CEO and founder of American Western Corp., was my utmost mentor. He taught me everything I know about plastics, and how to treat employees as family, instead of workers. Since my employers just prior to John were the exact opposite (more like prison wardens), I learned over my career about how not to treat people, as much as I did how to treat people. And how to not run a business. Thanks to John, I got it all right from him!
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: I'm as far as I care to go in that department. Retirement is starting to seem somewhat attractive … maybe in another 10 years! Ha!
Q: What do you do to relax?
Van Nieuwenhuyzen: Golf, shooting sports, hunting, gardening, playing piano and organ (in church), attending grandchildren's sporting events. RV-ing (in our motor home) with my husband and friends from all over the country.