Clearwater Beach, Fla. — When Brenda Chamulak became CEO of Tekni-Plex Inc. in the summer of 2021, she asked questions and she listened.
And she quickly learned that while the Wayne, Pa.-based company had a history of operational expertise in many different lines of plastics-related manufacturing, even employees sometimes had a difficulty describing to outsiders what Tekni-Plex was all about.
So Chamulak relied on her 30 years in packaging — mostly in a variety of roles at Aptar Group Inc. but also as CEO of Jabil Packaging Solutions — to start crafting a more focused, unified approach.
That included simplifying the company's structure to create two divisions in health care and consumer packaging, eliminating more than a dozen brands that it had previously continued thanks to a series of acquisitions over the years.
Chamulak saw the need to create what she calls a north star to help define and guide the company both internally and externally.
In talking with employees early on, Chamulak said an image emerged: "They were sitting in this car that had all the right investments."
"You had tires, you had windows, you had lights. You had doors. They had everything they needed to be able to go. But for some reason, somebody forgot to buy the GPS. That wasn't an option. And you had multiple people trying to drive the wheel," she said at the Plastics News Executive Forum held in Clearwater Beach.
"The car couldn't figure out which way it was going," Chamulak said. "When you look at your role from a leadership perspective, that is your role. Your role is trying to drive a train straight right through to where you are going," she said.
"You owe it to our organization to be able to help them through that. That's what I looked at as my mission. The most important thing I could do to help the organization is to pivot the organization towards the north star," she said.
When Chamulak took over as CEO, Tekni-Plex was a $1 billion company, but now has already grown to $1.9 billion in annual sales thanks to six separate acquisitions that have taken it fewer than two years. That's on top of the 14 acquisitions that occurred over the years before her arrival.
Tekni-Plex ranks No. 37 among film and sheet makers in North America, according to Plastics News data, and it is No. 57 among pipe, profile and tubing extruders.
Chamulak described a company that had built efficiencies in back-of-house operations, but one that was still fragmented in its public image based on acquired brands.
"It's really about how we pivoted our organization from an internally focused product or capabilities organization to an external market-facing organization where opportunities really could line up because we approached the market differently than the way we had always approached it," she told the conference that attracts executives from throughout the plastics industry.
Chamulak has used her background in marketing, a skill set not commonly found in the CEO seat, to help guide the company's change.
"My passion is about driving transformative growth," she said. "To be honest, it's tough to be a leader in today's day and age. There's a lot of chaos. There's a lot of confusion. And for me, embracing that chaos and helping everyone see through it is what I get super passionate about."
While the company makes a wide range of products — from expanded polystyrene egg cartons to medical tubing — the one thing that ties it all together is the firm's material science capabilities, she said.