Under her title of senior category leader of North American beverage closures for Coca-Cola Bottlers' Sales and Services Co. LLC in Atlanta, Penny Walter has a plethora of responsibilities: lead contractual negotiations; manage positive supplier relationships; support business requirements through data; ensure continuity of supply and quality at the lowest total delivered cost; and develop category strategies exceeding annual spend of $219 million across 19 billion closures, including innovation, quality, risk management and optimized conversion.
Among many accomplishments, Walter has led a cross-functional team and efforts to develop the first post-consumer recycled content beverage closures in the market and within the beverage industry globally; created and executed plans for global best practice for shell optimization, realizing $2.3 million in savings across North America; spearheaded campus efforts to become the second facility within Coca-Cola Enterprises in achieving ISO 9001/14001, FSSC 22000 and OHSAS 18001 certifications; and led the Eagan, Wis., production center to attain the CCR Annual Presidential Award for Quality Excellence for 2009-10.
Walter obtained a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering and management from North Dakota State University, Master of Arts in organizational leadership and strategic management from St. Catherine University and Master of Engineering in automation, manufacturing and controls from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
Her first industry role was as the industrial engineering supervisor at Ford Motor Co.
"I was fascinated by how things are put together, assembled and how manufacturing brings things to life," she said.
Her current challenges are with "supply continuity, balancing demand with available materials, capacity of suppliers and ensuring supply across the network."
"Know what you're good at, understand your strengths and maximize them. Don't go for a role or a position based on status or pay — do something you love and have passion for," Walter said. "Self-awareness is critical to success. Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself and have strengths in other areas."
Walter was nominated by Allison Lin, vice president of procurement and sustainability for Westfall Technik Inc.
Q: Most unexpected thing you learned from the pandemic?
Walter: Relationships that have been formed across the internal and external system were leveraged to help deliver this past 15 months. If the relationships had not been previously established, it would have been much more difficult to get things done and be effective.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Walter: Manufacturing fundamentals across systems are the same, challenges are the same, just different characters.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Walter: Engineering and manufacturing [are] not for the faint of heart. It is a difficult career choice as you have to be passionate, driven and motivated to want to make things better. You have to be open to feedback and willing to collaborate across functional teams to deliver in order to be effective. Those are the types of people we need in the plastics industry, that can help drive change but also do it in the right way.