Natalie Esposito's first plastics-related job was working on the manufacturing floor on a bag machine. She has worked her way through positions such as materials manager and plant manager.
"I first was introduced to the plastics industry because it offered a steady and consistent job with opportunity for personal growth, especially considering the ongoing innovations, new applications and challenges happening across the industry," she said. "The plastics industry has always provided me with opportunities to learn new skills and feel part of a supportive team.
In Esposito's 20-year career at packaging and foodservice products maker Novolex, she rose through the ranks, working on the floor and now overseeing an entire staff.
"I went back to school part time to study business management in Humber [College] and TRU [Thompson Rivers University, both in Canada]," she said. "Even though it was difficult to manage working and going to school at the same time, the experience allowed me to combine my hands-on experience and leadership skills to successfully oversee the whole facility."
Esposito is a plant manager of the Orangeville, Ontario, Shields facility and is responsible for "managing a team of manufacturers, engineers and operations specialists to ensure that our facility produces quality products for our customers and is a safe place for our workers." The plant provides manufacturing capabilities for the food, lawn and garden, ice melt and pet care industries.
"This process took a lot of work and required me to prove myself, especially when I was working in departments where I was the only woman," she said. "I'm proud of myself for growing my responsibility and knowledge of the industry, no matter the sacrifices it took."
Esposito said one career highlight has been working with her team to adapt operations to produce personal protective equipment to essential workers.
"I am proud of my experience at all levels of my plant, from working on the floor to managing the facility," Esposito said. "I know that my wealth of experience makes me a better leader, manager and employee."
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Esposito: For me, I am the proudest when I see others develop and grow confidence in their role. As a manager, I always try to encourage my employees to try new things and speak up. When my team pushes through their challenges and grows new skills — just as they did throughout the pandemic — it makes me feel that in some small way, my leadership helped inspire them to achieve their goals.
I'm also proud of the trust that I have cultivated within my team. I have worked hard to develop a culture where everyone knows that I stand behind them and they can feel comfortable coming to me with questions or concerns. I truly may have had one of their jobs earlier in my career. I can see this change tangibly — we recently marked one year of being safety incident-free — and through our strong, familial culture.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Esposito: The pandemic has brought a number of challenges, both personally and professionally, for my staff and me. Even though we were fortunate enough to be doing well on the business front, my staff was strained with a rise in absenteeism and new stresses at work and at home.
I am still trying to lead through a pandemic and our region of Ontario continues to have a tough time, and we are still feeling those strains and pressures even as the conditions become better. We introduced many safety measures to help address this such as compulsory mask wearing, social distancing, temperature taking and others. Making sure my staff feels safe and supported while continuing to fulfill our customers' needs is a continuous challenge.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Esposito: The first thing I would do is to connect with people. From my experience at all levels of this industry, I know that it's the people that make a workplace and a product successful. I have been fortunate enough to see this at work in the Novolex leadership, who understands the impact of valuing the individual and cultivating a strong company culture. I would also try to understand the mission and goals of the company, from the floor to the top management. And finally, I would try to instill the same culture that I have at my plant — creating a comfort level where a team can rely on each other and ask anyone for help.