Back when Arica Drake graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, she figured she would end up getting a job in the semiconductor industry.
That's where all the jobs were at the time, it seemed, she remembered.
But the current marketing director for food care systems at Sealed Air Corp. ended up in plastics, a decision that turned into a career.
Truth be told, Drake had never given much thought to plastics or packaging before starting to work in the industry, first on the technical side as a process engineer, later moving to product development, and now marketing.
But once she started looking into the business 19 years ago, she was fascinated, first working for three years at American Packaging Corp. before moving to Sealed Air.
“What really intrigued me about the packaging world and plastics was it was one of those things where I never thought about how does this stuff get made,” she remembered.
That certainly is not the case anymore and hasn't been for a long time.
Drake's job, these days, is to market packaging equipment for Sealed Air's food care systems business. She earned a master's degree in business administration along the way to help round out her skillset.
And this one of the most important things she's learned in her nearly 20 years in plastics:
“Listen more than you talk. Ask inquiring questions and listen. Don't try to correct what someone is saying, but ask them why they think that. You will be amazed at the information you will receive,” she said.
Listening, and not having a predetermined idea of how a conversation should go, opens up the lines of communication and business opportunities, she said.
“It's really better to sit back and really listen to exactly what they are saying and then ask questions,” Drake said, “to really understand what is the task.”
Drake has had a varied work life, including a stint in Australia, because she's been proactive about managing her career, she said. Networking, communication with managers, goals.
“There's not going to be opportunities that are just going to fall in your lap,” she said. “At least I've not had that experience.”
And engineering, she said, is really not that different from marketing.
“The reason I was an engineer is I love problem solving. Engineering was a great fit for that. But I also learned when I was getting my MBA is there's a lot of problem solving on the business side. And I honestly approach marketing very much as an engineer,” Drake said.
“I'm always out there trying to see what is the problem that needs to be solved, what is our solution,” she said.