Taylor Burnham, 28
Product Manager of Healthcare and Sustainability, Nexeo Plastics LLC
The last few years have presented Taylor Burnham with unique challenges in her role. As product manager of health care and sustainability, Burnham said it's her job to "support my suppliers by handling their business internally at Nexeo, but it is also my prerogative to support my salespeople as best I can."
Starting in June 2016, in Nexeo Plastics LLC's sales training program, she worked with the inside sales team, outside sales mentors and other departments to train and grow her skills to become an outside seller. She became a sales representative in May 2017, where she grew the resin distributor's roughly $3.6 million plastics business in Indiana to about $10.5 million in four years.
She started as a Nexeo product specialist of ETP compounding and masterbatch in December 2020, managing around 22 compounding and masterbatch suppliers through "one of the most tumultuous times in supply chain history," she said.
Burnham became the product manager of health care and sustainability in October 2021, overseeing new and current suppliers whose segments fall into health care and sustainability application markets.
"After having done the job for four years, my standard for supporting sales was to have very accurate details, timely plan Bs and keeping the customer supplied," she said.
"All plastics suppliers have had their business, supply chain and products laid bare to complete scrutiny and attack throughout the last two years in ways nobody could have predicted. … With every raw material having issues and all supply chain avenues breaking at the same time, the details were always less than firm or accurate, a plan B wasn't possible and the fix was unable to come before the fall out of a customer's line down," she added.
Burnham attended Texas A&M University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in industrial distribution. She discovered The Woodlands, Texas-based Nexeo by googling the "biggest competitor" to the plastics distributor who was interviewing her for a job after graduation.
"I knew from my courses that I probably wanted to sell a product that was commoditized enough that I didn't have to value sell all the time but I could still develop the skill when needed to," she said. "I also knew I wanted to choose a market where I could still utilize my engineering degree, so I ended up in plastics. I quickly figured out that it is uniquely different enough that I will spend my entire career trying to fully understand it."
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Burnham: There are so many societal factors on this topic that cannot be controlled by any one HR department or recruiting firm in any market. The world itself had to finally allow a shift that made kids of all backgrounds and all circumstances excited about a future in STEM, when it had been primarily only marketed to or possible for middle-upper class, cisgendered, straight white boys.
The shift is still happening slowly, but we are finally seeing all different kinds of people starting to trickle into more STEM-focused job markets like plastics. The only thing we can influence is making plastics a more warm and inviting market to start a career.
The chief stumbling block I see is the education and "reempathizing" of Gen X and baby boomers. These are the generation of mentors and educators to the next generation of worker, and upon 6 years of working with them, there are some who are set in their ways. Undeniably, I had it much easier since I grew up a millennial white woman in Texas, so shaking off the occasional inappropriate or out-of-place comment made by later generations is a well-worn pastime for me.
Gen Z, BIPOC and people in the LGBTQIA+ community have already shown themselves to be far less indulgent of that behavior, rightfully so. If plastics industry leaders expect to expand their company's diversity and create an environment for everyone, training needs to focus around being continual, honest and empathetic. Most importantly, it needs to include the workers who got used to one way of doing things for 20 years but will still be here for 15-20 more years.
I love the idea of intentionally creating safe spaces for empathetic conversations on topics that previous generations have always avoided because it makes them uncomfortable, where everyone feels like they can tell their stories. It's not a novel concept; it's something BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities have been hosting for years, and it should be incorporated more in the professional world. Large companies like Deloitte already do this and they do them regularly, with all their top brass involved.
When a company or market does this, everyone gains access to stories from their co-workers they could never have experienced themselves. This would hopefully start to shift everyone towards always keeping empathy front of mind, at work as well as at home. Little shifts can still make big waves that nonwhite, nonstraight/cisgendered, nonmale people feel safe to jump into.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Burnham: The women outside sellers and product managers at Nexeo are an especially resilient group of people that I constantly go to for advice. The training program at Nexeo pairs you with an outside seller when you start, and I will always be grateful that mine was the strong and very honest Kaija Krusemark. Without her, without all of them telling me about their own mistakes and missteps, my inevitable stumbling would have been far less dignified.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Burnham: As my title might allude to, sustainability really excites me. From all I have observed, it appears to be truly the last "new frontier" in plastics for us to tackle, and if it goes how we need it to, it will be what everyone molds with and makes parts out of. The idea that every single plastic could be and should be replaced with what I help position and market for new suppliers is electrifying.