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60-second interview: the day job

What do you do? Karen Carter, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics

Karen Carter, global marketing director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics
Karen Carter, global marketing director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics

As part of FoodProductionDaily’s ongoing series of 60-second interviews with the movers and shakers of the food and beverage industry, we caught up with Karen Carter of Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics.

Karen Carter, in charge of leading Dow’s packaging business, has been named to the Forty over 40 list, a prestigious roster of female executives recognized for their innovation, creativity, and leadership in business. Here, Carter talks about her career path, the mentors that guided her, and the future of the packaging industry.

What is your current position?

Global Marketing Director, Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics, a $12b business.  I am responsible for defining and implementing the global strategy for all downstream engagements within the packaging value chain. This includes leading a global team that engages brand owners, retailers, equipment manufacturers, design institutes, inventors, universities and industry associations to develop business opportunities and deliver solutions for sustainable packaging.

How did you get into the packaging industry?

Over my 20-year career at Dow, I have spent most of my time in the plastics industry. As our company has transformed to a market driving organization – we have evolved our business units to focus on markets where we understand the value chain, are competitively advantaged and can profitably grow through delivering innovative and relevant solutions.

I re-joined the Packaging & Specialty Plastics business in late 2011 to drive the go-to-market strategy and to engage our packaging value chain. Through this role I worked to better understand unmet needs, ensure our development efforts result in market relevant solutions and ultimately deliver business growth. This continues to be an amazing journey of which I’m proud to be a part.

What do you find most satisfying about your job?

I have the privilege of working with and serving an amazing global team. The thing I find most satisfying is when I can enable them to achieve their personal definition of success. Whether that is overcoming a deficiency, moving to a new role or simply clarifying what success means to them.

One of my team members recently moved to Europe on an international assignment and it is so much fun watching her experience this amazing time in her life. Another person I have mentored, finally landed a job in the group she wanted to be in – and getting that call, hearing the excitement in her voice was awesome!

I truly believe that our company is better because of the various people that give their time to help employees navigate the organization and ultimately define and implement their goals. Our company expects leaders to engage in the development of others and I personally get a lot of satisfaction from fulfilling this requirement.

Beside this award, tell us about some of your proudest accomplishments.

Here is a brief breakdown of my proudest accomplishments:

  • Building the strategy, organization and leading the implementation of our new value chain strategy for the Packaging & Specialty Plastics business. This is resulting in additional market insight, increased awareness of Dow and our offerings across the packaging value chain and business growth.
  • Living and working in Shanghai, China for two years as the Asia Pacific General Manager for Building & Construction.  I also served on a Japanese Board of Directors - Dow Kakoh Kabushiki Kaisha (JV between Dow Chemical & Sumitomo Chemical Company, Limited).  During my tenure, the team more than doubled the business earnings. Most importantly, I personally grew as a global citizen. 
  • Founding member of Dow’s African-American Employee Network.  I am currently a member of the African-American Network’s Leadership Council.
  • I had the opportunity to be published in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association early in my career due to my work with the Global Diversity Expertise Center. 
  • Recently, two colleagues and I partnered with a local organization to prepare and find viable employment options for adults in a neighboring community that has been negatively impacted by the auto industry downturn. Our first class of students completed the program earlier this year and 80% of the graduates are now employed full-time! We will start our 2nd class in the fall.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I aim to start every day with a bit of “quiet time” to help ensure I set a positive tone for the day. On some days, I may exercise in the morning and on other days I will exercise in the evening. I have found that exercise really helps me maintain the right physical balance with my heavy travel schedule. Once at work, I try to complete my most important task first – even before I read my e-mail. My schedule tends to be biased towards in-person or live call meetings because I prefer connecting with people vs. technology to solve issues and address opportunities.  My meetings tend to focus on people, customers and innovation. I try to maximize my entire work day, including my lunch, so I don’t miss an opportunity to connect. I keep a copy of our team goals close by throughout the day to constantly check if my daily activities are moving our organization forward or not. 

On the way home, I decompress by calling my mom which also guarantees I won’t have a discussion about work.  I spend the first several minutes at home (after work or the gym) connecting with my husband.

I generally try to end the day how I started it by reflecting on what I did well, what I want to improve and who else I can help.  And I can never end a day without a few games of bingo on my IPad and at least one episode of Golden Girls!

What advice would you give someone considering a career in the packaging industry?

Go for it! It is an exciting time to be in the packaging industry and there are so many roles to play - packaging engineer, design, marketing, manufacturing, etc.  It is a global industry that is growing above gross domestic product that also gives you the ability to help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.   In the packaging industry you have an opportunity to make a difference through reducing food waste or reducing the carbon footprint through lighter weight options. Packaging can offer numerous solutions and there is a significant amount of opportunity across the value chain and around the world.

Do you have any mentors who offered you guidance and wisdom along the way?

Mentorship has made a significant difference if not “the” difference in my career. And it has been a contributing factor to my current success at Dow.  A number of people have been gracious enough to teach, share and even advocate on my behalf by opening doors and removing barriers.  From a personal perspective, I am fortunate to have had a number of people “stand in the gap” for me by coaching and helping ensure I met my potential.  It has absolutely taken a village in my case.  And when you have had as many mentors as I have, I believe it is a small price to pay – by “paying it forward” to others and sharing what I have learned. Knowledge sharing can truly help someone else while also positively impacting individual and corporate objectives.

Diego Donoso, president of your division at Dow, applauded you for “breaking down barriers and pushing the envelope” at Dow Packaging—why is that important?

I believe change is synonymous with survival -if you don’t change, then you won’t survive.  Change may be hard and often uncomfortable, but it is often those barriers that are important to overcome in order to move an organization, a business or even yourself forward. Appropriately challenging the status quo is critical to the success of any organization. 

What other traits do you have in common with the other women in the Forty Over 40 list?

While I don’t know all of these ladies personally, their profiles and accomplishments are extremely impressive. I can imagine that some of the commonalities of all of these amazing women are that we have been extremely determined and tenacious as well as trail blazers in our respective industries.   Perhaps the most important commonality is our relentless passion for those things most important to us.

What will the packaging industry look like 20 years from now?

For the packaging industry, there will never be a plateau in terms of innovation and the best reason for that is because packaging is a consumer goods market, shaped by consumer preferences. Consumer demands and buying habits change due to a variety of reasons; changes in demographics, aging population, lifestyle, cost, etc. and packaging must evolve to meet their needs.  Dow is continuing to invest in packaging with additional capacity, equipment and technology to address consumers unmet needs. Whether it is addressing a need for convenience with single-serve packaging options, or a need for increased sustainability with lighter-weight flexible packaging, Dow works across the value chain to develop solutions that keep up with the ever-changing industry; driving innovative solutions for our customers and our customers’ customers. We are excited to play a key role in that innovation through our global Pack Studios network which enables our customers to bring these new packaging innovations to the market faster.

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