Pallavi Joyappa's penchants for being analytical, meticulous and achievement-oriented serve her well in the flexible packaging industry.
She is the first woman to serve as chief operating officer of Emerald Packaging Inc. and has made dramatic improvements. She joined the Union City, Calif., business in 2005 as a process control engineer.
Emerald promoted Joyappa to process and quality control manager in September 2006, director of operations in January 2011 and COO in February 2014.
"Over the years, we have increased operating cash flow by $6 million," she said. Emerald has "slashed inventory, improved lead times and added to the bottom line by strategic sourcing and vendor negotiations."
Deciding on strategy, she said, requires finding "the right balance between science and gut." Consider metrics but also listen "to the tribal knowledge" within an organization to find synergies.
In her spare time, she has completed three half marathons and plans soon on running a full, 26.2-mile marathon.
"Pallavi has an incredibly holistic understanding of the business," Emerald CEO Kevin Kelly said. "She sells, can read a financial statement and knows [operations] inside and out. A pretty rare combination in any person, let alone someone with an engineering background. Her determination and wit make her stand out."
Joyappa was born in Bangalore, India, in December 1978 and moved often as a youngster.
"I was an Army brat," she said. "We moved to a new school every three years until Dad's retirement."
She received a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Bangalore University and a Master of Science degree in engineering management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
On her own initiative, Joyappa enrolled in the American Society for Quality's Six Sigma program and became a certified black belt through sessions at the private Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Marriage brought her to the San Francisco Bay area.
"I had heard of Emerald Packaging's success while at Precision Press Inc.," she said. The lithographic label supplier in North Mankato, Minn., is a subsidiary of privately held Taylor Corp.
"I applied for a process control engineer position at Emerald in the fall of 2005," Joyappa noted, "and the rest they say is history."
Within her first year, she established a quality control department. Product returns fell from 2 percent of sales to 0.01 percent.
Instituting lean manufacturing practices in 2013 led to certifications from AIB International Inc. and Foundation FSSC 22000.
Receiving the Bay Area Green Business Award for three straight years "speaks volumes to our commitment in making packaging a more holistic solution," she said.
Joyappa was directly involved in Emerald expanding its footprint to an adjacent building that was acquired in July 2013 and became fully operational in 2015.
"This beast of an undertaking had to be seamless in the eyes of our customers," she said. The effort "entailed moving of 32 bag machines and building an infrastructure to house film and finished goods without the loss of machine time."
She added: "Missing a shipment as a result of this move was not an option. After three months of planning and back-breaking work, we were fully up and running in our newly acquired 150,000 square feet. This project was successfully completed under budget and on time."
While her early roots in the world of packaging were set in "the mecca of all things printing and packaging" — the Midwest — "over time, technology began to excite me," she noted.
Smart and active packaging may involve cold- or touch-activated thermochromic inks, she said.
"Being able to bring to life and commercialize these technologies through Emerald has been a thrill," she said.
Joyappa noted that consumers want interaction, perhaps with a milk container's color-changing sensor or a printed battery permitting a salad bag "to talk to the refrigerator in real time by providing time, temperature and pH-level data."
She remains closely tied to Emerald's commercial side and maintains several strategic customer relationships.