Bob Phillips, 30
Sales Manager, Retal PA LLC
Bob Phillips earned his Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. During college, he held an internship at a plastics manufacturer that was located at the same factory where Retal is based today in Donora, Pa.
"I was inspired to join the plastics industry as plastic is so prevalent in our society, and I knew there would be a huge scope to develop in this dynamic sector," he said. "I've always been fascinated by polymer science and could see that I could have a long-term career that utilized my chemical engineering capabilities."
Following graduation, he worked for an environmental consulting firm, CleanAir Engineering, as a field engineer.
"I enjoyed jumping in the deep end of the environmental issues surrounding air emission testing and saw the fast-paced industries of oil and gas, natural gas and nuclear power up front," he said.
Phillips has been with packaging manufacturer Retal since 2019. As sales manager, he has improved and developed new sales strategies to grow the existing client base and expand the company's product portfolio. He has also played a key role in the Retal team's success in its current expansion plan.
"It's very much a team effort, and I'm proud of my own contributions in contract liaison, design specification discussions and commercial details such as capacity and volumes," he said. "I've been right on the front line in getting the second phase of our expansion set up, and we're very happy to see that this growth illustrates Retal PA's increasing market share in the North America plastic packaging market."
Every industry has been impacted by the pandemic, to varying degrees. The domestic supply chain was hit especially hard during the initial months of the pandemic, and supply chain issues remain.
"We had a very detailed plan for each element of our supply chain requirements — including raw materials, corrugated packaging … all sorts — so that at least we had some systems already within the craziness," he said. "It also helped that we are part of a global group, and we could learn from the best practice put in place at other factories that were ahead of our experience of coronavirus on the timeline."
With so many moving parts in the plastics industry, especially during the pandemic, Phillips has dealt with the challenge of remaining resilient and flexible.
"As we increase our capacity, so too must we increase our agility," he said. "It's a challenge we're all inspired by and are ready for, so it feels more like an opportunity."
Phillips was nominated by Maria Jarrar, head of strategic marketing for Retal.
Q: What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Phillips: Early on in my career, I attended a meeting where I made assumptions about what the customer wanted, based on my own previous experience, which meant that I had to go back to them to ask for more information. It really taught me to be open-minded, to ask questions and to actually listen to the answers. It sounds so simple, but people don't always do it.
Q: What is your philosophy related to plastics and sustainability? What steps have you taken to improve plastics' sustainability, either in work, your community or personal life?
Phillips: Working with other Retal factories highlights how 100 percent recycled PET is possible and how we can integrate different volumes of recycled PET into our preforms in the U.S. Many of our customers are asking questions, and I am pleased that we are ahead of the curve thanks to being part of a global company that has already gone through many of the steps required. We have regular contact with our colleagues at other plants and can quickly share knowledge and experience.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Phillips: My CEO Darius Janulionis a mentor to me and many other people at our plant. I was working here for two months before he came from the Retal plant in Lithuania, and as soon as he arrived I felt a sense of comfort. He is calm, professional and friendly; he has no ego, no hidden agenda. He is able to steer us all and we've all flourished thanks to him and his steady leadership.