After spending many years in paper and packaging distribution sales, Michelle Wilson made the move into flexible packaging. At that time, there were no such things as internet searches.
"There was a lot of driving around sketchy neighborhoods looking for meatpacking houses and paying guys to watch my car while I went in and did demos on horizontal forming web machines," said the Berry Global Inc. vice president of health care sales for North America, Health, Hygiene and Specialties division. "The ability to close on business and capture new accounts led me to CT Film, where I went from being a new sales rep to national account manager and ultimately regional sales manager within three years."
Wilson, 51, graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. When she was working on her master's degree at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., she accepted a marketing role at American National Can.
After spending 10 years in plastics and flexible packaging, she ventured into computer software sales. "Needless to say, I came back," she said.
Wilson then had positions at DuPont USA, CT Film/Pliant Plastics Corp. and then Berry.
"Most recently I have [had] the honor of leading our North American health care sales team," Wilson said in her Women Breaking the Mold survey. "If I had to identify highlights along the way, it has been when I have seen successes [growth] occur with cross-functional teamwork and value creation for our customers and our customers' customers."
Wilson said she is excited to see what the evolution of "smart packaging" will bring to the customer.
"I think we've just started to see hints of it," she said. "Advances in polymer science, nanotechnology, printing/ink technology along the with ever-increasing focus on the environment promoted and use of social media will ultimately change packaging in ways I can't even imagine."
Her current work challenge is balancing the need to address day-to-day tasks and demands vs. spending time doing strategic long-term work.
"It would be very easy to turn on the computer in the morning and spend the next 10 hours just dealing with what comes up in email — questions, problems, opportunities, etc. — then turn off the computer at the end of the day without ever having a chance to spend time on strategic evaluation or thinking about the big picture," Wilson said.
That "task mentality," she said, makes it more difficult to get time in front of customers.
Wilson is involved in the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Flexible Packaging Association and Kellogg Alumni Network for the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.
Wilson said one of the best pieces of advice she has received was to remember, "It's just plastics."
"Whenever I have a chance to speak with people entering the plastics industry or the workforce in general, I always promote this industry," she said. "There are so many different facets, different types of products and companies to promote and to work for. … Additionally, while there are peaks and valleys, plastics offer the opportunity to make a very good living. We, as an industry, will be a fundamental part of the world for indefinitely. The opportunities are endless. The plastics industry can be part of solving some pretty daunting global challenges when we work together."