Jonathan Eickhoff, 33
Product Innovation Director, Berry Global Group Inc.
Jonathan Eickhoff earned his bachelor's degree in engineering and master's degree in industrial management from the University of Southern Indiana. His first role in the plastics industry was as an intern at Evansville, Ind.-based Berry Global Group Inc.
"I quickly became intrigued with all aspects of product design, molds and equipment used to manufacture the plastic products. Having the opportunity to work at Berry's Product Development headquarters and largest manufacturing site was like a huge playground for a young engineer," he said.
Eickhoff became a product development engineer in May 2011, then product innovation research and development manager in August 2018. He has been the product innovation director for the packaging giant since September 2020.
"A professional achievement that I am most proud of is being part of a team to innovate and deliver a more sustainable polypropylene drinking lid to the foodservice industry to replace a less sustainable polystyrene alternative. This particular program stands out above the others due to the significant amount of innovation that was required in every phase of the project: product design, the manufacturing equipment and material science," he said.
Eickhoff said the goal for his team every day is "ultimately to cultivate new concepts into eventual major projects that will drive future growth for the company."
"The front end of the process is the idea funnel and where the list of new concepts can be extensive. Many times the most challenging aspect is deciding which concept to move forward and which concepts to shelve. When making these evaluations, it is very important to have the discipline to remain objective and take the time to fully understand the value proposition of the concept or idea," he said.
Eickhoff said he tries to never shy away from experiences that may take him out of his comfort zone "because I know those experiences drive me to grow as a person."
"In general," he said, "I try to keep the mentality that if I can continue to develop my skills as a trusted, valuable and contributing team member, then increasing levels of responsibility will naturally follow."
Asked what has been the best advice he has received, Eickhoff said, "Don't be afraid to fail."
"Failure is a necessary part of innovation," he said. "In many cases, if you are not failing you are not pushing the limits far enough."
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Eickhoff: I have had many mentors and people that I have looked up to throughout my personal and work life. However, my dad is always a person that I will look up to. He has been a custom cabinet maker for 40-plus years and routinely labeled a "perfectionist." He is the one who instilled in me a strong work ethic and the notion of "if you are going to do something, then do it right, the first time."
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Eickhoff: I think continuing to educate our youth on the benefits of plastics and opportunities within the industry will facilitate the spark of interest within larger groups of young people. At the same time, we must realize that diversity and inclusion are key to being able to solve the very dynamic problems that our industry faces now and in the future. To navigate these future challenges, it is going to take ideas, input, and contribution from individuals who come from all backgrounds and perspectives.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Eickhoff: I am always surprised by the level of opportunity that exists for plastics recycling. Being a plastics engineer, I understand the endless possibilities of a material like polypropylene, but then am surprised that PP recycling rates are lower than other materials. This lack of recycling access and participation has led to the plastics industry rallying together, creating initiatives such as the Polypropylene Recycling Coalition and others. It is exciting to participate in these initiatives as they continue to build momentum in the right direction.