Karen Carter wants her time on earth to make a positive impact — for the community, for the plastics industry, and her employer, Dow Chemical Co. As commercial vice president of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, she appears well on her way.
Carter began her career at Dow as in intern in 1994, when she was a student at Howard University. Her first full-time job was a sales representative for Dow. She sold resin for food packaging applications, undoubtedly getting a taste of things to come.
“Learning that the science and technology in plastic packaging enables potato chips to be crisper and trash bags tougher, and most importantly contributes to reducing food waste, was a big draw for me,” Carter said.
Carter learned social responsibility at home, from a mother who made sacrifices to put her daughter through college, culminating in an MBA in international business from DePaul University.
“The world she grew up in was so different and filled with limitations for her,” Carter said. “She gave her entire life to making sure her children, and now grandchildren, were afforded the opportunities she was not.”
Carter has parlayed that wisdom into involvement with community service and even within Dow, where she is a leader in the company's African American Network, one of Dow's seven employee networks.
She partakes in Dow's 2025 Sustainability Goals program, where employees collaborate with industry leaders to promote re-use and recovery of plastics waste. She points to Dow's RecycleReady technology as an initiative that benefits society and the environment. The technology allows recycling of barrier stand-up pouches, one of the most ornery of flexible packaging problems.
Carter encourages those thinking of plastics for a career to: “Go for it.
“This is an amazing industry and an exciting time to be joining.”
One of the most exciting times in her career was a two-year stint in China, where she worked as a general manager while learning the culture.
“It made me more appreciative of diversity,” she recalled. “It gave me the ability to put myself in someone else's position, allowed me to collaborate better.”
Collaboration is key to determine the priorities of everyone in the manufacturing value chain and which areas to focus on first.
“I believe that a great leader has the ability to listen, discern, decide and reflect,” she explained.
As she climbed the corporate ladder Carter surely got good advice from many people, but she considers her mother to be her biggest role model.
“She taught me how to survive, thrive and live this life with grace and dignity. She embedded in me a thirst for continuous learning and at the age of 76, she is still exploring new things.”
Carter said she has been lucky in her career to have had a few “dream jobs” where she learned customer engagement, leadership, business management and growth.
“I really want to take everything I have learned and maximize my contribution going forward — for customers, for people and for Dow.”