Brant Wunderlich, 27
Market Manager, Caps & Closures and Thin-Wall Injection Molding, Nova Chemicals Corp.
Plastics had always been present in Brant Wunderlich's life. His father, Dave, has worked at Calgary, Alberta-based polyethylene maker Nova Chemicals Corp. since 1988, where he works as a research technologist in the Center for Applied Research. His father put the idea into Wunderlich's head to consider the industry and was eventually fortunate to sit down with Kathleen Donnelly, the team leader of computational fluid dynamics at Nova.
While there was not an immediate opening available, Wunderlich joined a few months later in technical service and application development for the caps and closures team. He became market manager for caps and closures and thin-wall injection molding in March 2020.
Wunderlich's first patent filing was in 2018; his first successful conference, of which he was program lead, was BevTech Canada in June 2019; his first conference presentation was at Plastics News' Caps and Closures in September 2020; and his first published article was in November 2020.
"The biggest surprise to me in the plastics industry is how homey it feels," he said. "Everyone is so helpful, and it delivers this 'small industry' feeling; it feels like you can get a hold of just about anyone."
Wunderlich graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor's degree from the honors chemical engineering co-op program. He was the recipient of the Sandford Fleming Foundation Academic Achievement Award for graduating chemical engineering with the highest graduating grade in April 2016.
He is a member of the International Society of Beverage Technologists, ISBT Canada and Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta. In normal years, he attends ISBT: BevTech, ISBT: BevTech Canada, Plastics News Caps and Closures and NPE.
"I have executive aspirations, but right now I am taking baby steps and keeping my eyes open for opportunity," he said. "In the immediate term, I'm only a year into my current role and loving it."
Wunderlich enjoys snowboarding, hiking, traveling, reading and video games and scotch.
Andie Stiles, Nova marketing communications manager, nominated Wunderlich for Rising Stars.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Wunderlich: My current challenge at work, like many others, it's trying to connect and grow a business through a computer screen. It's hard to fully engage with customers, the markets and my colleagues. Imagining a world without COVID-19, probably the biggest hill in starting in a commercial role coming from an engineering background is the somewhat foreign language of finance. It has not been exactly straightforward to speak in detail (intelligently) to financial topics with a collection of colleagues with years of experience, degrees, etc. A healthy diet of literature and more importantly patient colleagues has helped bring me reasonably up to speed in the last 10 months.
Q: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic?
Wunderlich: Isolation. I started my role in marketing in March of 2020. As with starting any new job, many of my anxieties were eased by the fact that I had mentors — in particular, my mentor who formerly did my job, Eric Vignola — within arm's reach. Getting sent home, I found myself alone! Furthermore, many members of our market focus team had not even met each other in person. Ten months later, I have to say this went miraculously well after working through all the kinks — and I am proud of what the team has done/did in 2020. I never thought I'd say this, but I am very thankful for teleconferencing.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Wunderlich: I'd give two pieces of advice to a person considering a career in the plastics industry: A healthy appetite to learn is more important than knowledge about plastics. I came in with no plastics knowledge!
On learning: You will get way more from the seasoned experts than you will from textbooks (and have more fun). As innovation goes, polymers are relatively new, and in specifically plastic processing, there is a fair amount of art, and finesse, or black magic depending on how you look at it. This also leaves a lot to be discovered (particularly to the benefit of your business).
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Wunderlich: The thing you want to do the least, that's the most important thing for you to do right now. This came from my chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo, Laura Deakin.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Wunderlich: The two most important things for me before making any strategic moves is to understand who the organization is (the people, the culture) and to ensure I know the businesses details (financials and customers). I'd then seek to understand the perspectives of the senior members of the org and our direction. The key for me would be to drive to our five- [to] 10-year vision for the organization and the strategy that follows, and to really challenge if this is the right one. The vision is the most significant piece I have to offer. In the meantime, I'd ensure I'm maintaining an active and visible role within the organization. Because this is a theoretical organization – I can't go much further than that!