When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Darius Janulionis said, the early days were scary because "it wasn't clear if the local governor would shut manufacturing down; there were lots of rumors."
Janulionis is the president and CEO of Donora, Pa.-based Retal PA LLC, a global packaging manufacturer focused on high density polyethylene, PET and recycled PET preforms and closures as well as films.
"Fortunately, plastic packaging for food and beverages fell under the essential business list and we were able to continue, but of course that meant that we had to be extra careful to keep our people safe and production going, implementing all the guidance about masks, keeping 6 feet part, hand-washing and so on," he said.
Retal's facilities were able to learn from one another as each facility had a slightly different experience, depending on their locations and where they were in the pandemic timeline.
"Our quality manager for Europe shared helpful best practice guidelines," he said, "and we quickly worked out how to keep our people and our business safe."
Guidelines such as working from home proved there was trust between management and the other team members. "My team working from home has never been an issue as I trust them to get their work done effectively," he said.
Janulionis said the pandemic has taught the public that plastics are necessary and "not the devil."
"People were washing down their groceries and needing disposable gloves and hygienic medical equipment. … Plastic shifted to being a superhero! It is clear that plastic needs to be respected, as a material and as a resource that must be recycled," Janulionis said. "It has a vital role to play in a responsible society."
Retal is expected to grow significantly in the next year, he said.
"We're increasing capacity by 40 percent by adding two new lines, and we intend to maximize that investment by bringing new capabilities to our global beverage brand customers," Janulionis said. "We're growing our team, too, by bringing in people that want to be part of our global business right here in Donora."
The bus driver
Janulionis took over as president and CEO at the end of 2019. He has held various roles, such as distributing fish in Lithuania, assisting an event organizer as a limousine chauffeur for famous disc jockeys at a Lithuanian airport, to working on a blow molding machine at a beverage company in Norway.
"My mentor was and still is Janas Maculskis, the Retal production director," Janulionis said. "Many years ago, he came to fix the blow molding machine at my first job in Norway and, as we were in a rural location and Janas was a fellow Lithuanian, I invited him to stay at my house while the machine was repaired. We talked, and I liked how he described his life and his work.
"When he got back to Lithuania, he offered me a job at Retal, and I've been part of the company ever since. Janas is the reason I'm here; he saw potential in me and has encouraged me every step of my career," he added.
His first goal was to show others that he's part of the team, Janulionis said.
"I'm not here to motivate people or rule with fear; I believe that if you choose smart people and give them the right opportunities and support, they are self-motivated," he said.
The company culture, Janulionis said, is one that is "progressive, supportive and dedicated to achieving sustainable results for all stakeholders." The environment at the Donora facility is full of respect and open communication. Employees are encouraged to share ideas and talk with one another.
Janulionis said he prefers the title of general manager as opposed to CEO or president, as he is a "team worker" and supports others "any time and in any way they need."
"I feel like a bus driver, picking up my team as we all go along on the same journey, to the same destination," he said. "I'm driving the bus, but it would be pointless on my own."
Janulionis said he wants to be remembered as a fair leader and team worker — "a person who you can trust and can rely on."