Adrianne Tipton’s journey to Chief Technology Officer at Novolex was nonlinear, ultimately evolving out of her affinity for product solutions and high tech innovation. She has a PhD in synthetic organic chemistry and held a post doctorate fellowship in bioinorganic chemistry, which is a testament to her interest in learning new things and diving deeper into plastics, paper, synthetics, and the substrates Novolex works with daily.
Adrianne’s expertise, as reflected through this Q&A, brings a key perspective to the 2022 Novolex Sustainability Report and provides further insights into what the roadmap of innovation and product development looks like at Novolex.
Q: What does your day-to-day look like as the Chief Technology Officer at Novolex?
Adrianne: My day-to-day is pretty diverse. I’ll have 15 meetings a day sometimes. It can be corporate safety, which is a big focus for us, or product development and new technology discussions. I also have several meetings with suppliers to see what they have to offer. A big part of my day is also looking at new business opportunities since we’re always looking at how we can grow, along with capital planning, new equipment review, and sustainability conversations. I’m pretty sure I can’t go a day without one or two of those. It’s pretty diverse, but I like it that way. It’s fun.
Q: Where and how did you develop a passion for this line of work?
Adrianne: It’s funny, if you would have asked me when I exited grad school or postdoc and said, ‘You’re going to be doing this in 20 years,’ I would have said, ‘I don’t even know what that is,’ but it’s kind of revealing to look back.
I started my career in high tech. I worked at an equipment manufacturer as a process engineer. Now I manage capital for a company and I deal with OEMs. I worked in consumer goods companies for a while, not only in-house for more than seven years but also consulting, so I had the opportunity to see a lot of different end-product solutions and worked in both product and packaging development with them. Then I worked in paper converting, so that helped me on the Duro paper bag side of the business when we first bought them.
I think everything I did leading up to Novolex set me up for the breadth of capability that we currently have and the substrates we work with daily. I’m grateful for the opportunities I was offered and took even if at the time they may not have been on a straight line to my future.
Q: What do you enjoy most about working at Novolex?
Adrianne: Honestly, the people are amazing. I love our corporate culture and what our CEO has built. I also appreciate our breadth of products and being able to say yes to a customer and offer them a variety of different things. I feel proud knowing that we can offer them a variety of options on their sustainability journey too. If they would like more recycled content, if they would like plastics reduction, if they would like to move to a fiber-based product, we have solutions for all these needs.
Q: What transformation, innovation, or data point are you most proud of in this year’s sustainability report?
Adrianne: I would say I am most proud of our largest investment as a company being in our new PCR recycling line. I think it’s a huge win for us, not only in capability, but also learning. It was exciting to be able to make an investment in something that is not necessarily converting equipment, as we would normally buy, but something new that expands our capacity in that space. I’m really proud of that.
Q: How has innovation and new product development evolved during your time at Novolex?
Adrianne: Looking back at some of the data, we’ve increased revenues from our New Product Innovation team almost 10 times from the time that I arrived. A lot of that’s because we’ve grown as a company, but it’s neat to see that every year we’re able to consistently grow our revenue based on our new product innovations. We have so many creative people and ideas, as well as great cross-functional teams, that drive innovation.
Q: Can you speak to the recent Novolex collaboration with NOVA Chemicals? How will that collaboration improve sustainability outcomes across Novolex and its products?
Adrianne: First, the collaboration with NOVA Chemicals is for Novolex to operate a new recycling facility for NOVA. The plant is theirs. NOVA came to us to operate it because of our expertise operating our own recycling facilities in North Vernon, Ind. and Shawano, Wis.
The benefits that Novolex provides include our customer reach. The 100 million pounds of post-consumer recycled polyethylene (rPE) resin that the plant will produce will require more than 150 million pounds of post-consumer film from consumer carry bags and commercial sources that need to be recycled. Our partnerships with major retailers and grocers made us a differentiating factor because those stores – many of whom are our customers – collect used film from consumers for processing.
We’re excited to work with NOVA Chemicals to be able to produce resin for their SYNDIGO™ brand post-consumer recycled polyethylene (rPE), which they have already introduced in the market and are continuing to grow. It’s a great collaboration. We’ll run the facility, we will manufacture for them and then they will sell the resin out in the market.
Q: How do you use the Novolex Sustainability Report?
Adrianne: I love our sustainability report. I love the fact that we do one and the fact that we’ve done five of them, establishing a tradition that reflects in very concrete terms on the Novolex brand promise of choice, innovation and sustainability. There are so many benefits to publishing the report. For our customer it shows we take sustainability seriously across a range of programs and metrics at both the enterprise and product level. For our employees, it builds pride and informs. For recruitment, so many job candidates want to see that a company has a commitment to sustainability and ESG goals. I also use it with our suppliers because then they want understand where we’re coming from when we ask them for certain attributes of their products to help us meet our sustainability goal.
Q: What is your vision for the company’s approach to developing innovative, sustainable packaging solutions in future?
Everything we work on aims to have more recycled content, be recyclable or compostable. I would say a vast majority of our new product development is in that space and will continue down that route. The balance may shift over time, however. This should happen both as more compostable resin options become available and as different coatings for fiber-based products are introduced that provide barrier performance and enable those products to be recycled and/or composted. These trends will continue to enable growth in the market for more sustainable solutions.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders in manufacturing?
Adrianne: Be bold and be accurate. Don’t be afraid to be heard. I think a lot of times, I’ve seen the female peers not feel like they have a voice when they do, so you should come with data and make your case concisely.
On my desk, I have a cube that says be brief, be bright, be gone. I always tell people, show me the data, be concise. And then let’s move on.