Seizing Opportunities
for a successful career
women in plastics
by Jinny Kcehowski

uring the October 2020 IAPD Women in Plastics Virtual Event, keynote speaker Rania Anderson said, “80 percent of the decisions about your career are made when you are not in the room … and it takes much more than hard work.” Among all the valuable takeaways from the session, these statements made me pause and reflect on my career — from inside sales rep new to performance plastics in 2007 to associate director of training & development and member of senior management in 2019 to IAPD Pacesetter Award winner in 2020. My story is a testament to what is possible through mentorship, sponsorship, networking and volunteering.

I started in the plastics industry just 11 days after graduating from college. At that time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I wanted to work and needed a job. I met Eddie Howe, business manager of Curbell Plastics, Inc. in Pittsburgh, PA, USA at a job fair and he hired me shortly after our meeting. Looking back, I couldn’t have known how pivotal a role he would play in my career.

Volunteerism leads to a mentor
Shortly after I started at Curbell, the company went live on an enterprise resource planning software known as SAP and was looking for volunteers to join a focus group that would meet at their corporate office. Focus group members were responsible for delivering information, updates and training to the branches. I raised my hand for the opportunity, and by default (as no one else expressed interest), I was admitted to the team.

I knew that I had a passion for people; it was always relatively easy for me to meet and connect, so that’s what I did during my visits to corporate in addition to fulfilling my duties on the focus group. One day Tracy Schiedel, who was the director of marketing at the time, invited me to lunch. I was excited and nervous. Coming from a blue-collar family, I hadn’t interacted much with anyone in the corporate world, especially at the senior management level. She must have known that I was nervous — perhaps that’s why she picked the spot she did for lunch. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that we had chili dogs and milkshakes at a picnic table outside; I also remember that this is where our relationship began. We continued to meet during my subsequent trips.

“Mentors take an interest in your career but not a stake in your success. Great mentors give advice and also candid feedback and direction,” Anderson said. Although we never referred to our relationship as a mentorship, Schiedel was and still is a mentor to me. I am beyond grateful for her continued guidance and support.

Self-discovery and a sponsor
During my time serving as a member of the SAP Focus Group, I learned I have a passion for training and development. I was not only the happiest when I was in service to someone else, but I also realized that I could break something complex down and organize it in a way that it could be taught to others. I knew that I couldn’t continue in my sales role; I had to go back to school to be a teacher. I spoke to Howe about my plans to join the Peace Corp and apply for the Teach Across America Program. This is where my career in plastics could have ended, but Howe sponsored me to his boss who then sponsored me to his. After a few weeks, he asked me about the possibility of remaining at Curbell in a training position, the first of its kind at the company.

Howe and his boss, Sam Martin, saw a business need in the organization, believed in my ability to address it and had the power, influence and willingness to make it happen; this decision turbo-charged my career. And this, according to Anderson, is a sponsor. “Sponsors are not warm and fuzzy, but directed and intentional,” she said. “They need proteges to help them achieve their vision, objectives and legacy.” I think back on this moment in my career often. If I hadn’t taken the risk to articulate my strengths and aspirations that day, I am not sure what I would be doing today, but I am nearly certain that it would not be in the plastics industry.

Women in Plastics making a difference
The opportunity to serve in the Women in Plastics group also came through sponsorship when my manager, Peter DelGado, came to me regarding a conversation that he had with a colleague, Karen DeBard, CPMR. Karen and her sister Kim Reddick, CPMR, were eager to guide the fledgling women’s group at IAPD. They recognized that the male-dominated industry would not only benefit from more women and greater diversity in leadership and management, but that it is also a business imperative for long-term sustainability. At the time, the why was known but not the how. Once again, I raised my hand to getting involved and the connection with these leaders was made.

We met regularly and our discussions progressed from how to get this initiative off the ground, to getting sponsorships, to establishing a following and a committee, to articulating our vision, mission and strategy, to providing value and focusing on our evolution. Volunteering on behalf of the Women in Plastics initiative through IAPD has been one of the most personally fulfilling experiences of my life and professionally rewarding experiences of my career. I am a better person and plastics professional for having been involved, and to be recognized as a Pacesetter in the industry in 2020 is just icing on the cake. And it never would have happened if it weren’t for the many mentors and sponsors that I have been fortunate enough to have throughout my career.

Karen DeBard, CPMR, Jinny Kcehowski and Kim Reddick, CPMR at an IAPD Women in Plastics regional educational workshop
From left to right: Karen DeBard, CPMR, Jinny Kcehowski and Kim Reddick, CPMR at an IAPD Women in Plastics regional educational workshop.
Giving back
When Peter DelGado and I were invited to participate in a panel discussion on “Working with Mentors and Mentees” at the Plastics News’ Women Breaking the Mold Virtual Event in November 2020, we jumped at the chance. As I am clearly the beneficiary of mentorship and sponsorship in my own career, I feel compelled to give back by mentoring and sponsoring others and sharing the benefits of doing so with others. The session included how mentors find mentees, the process of mentoring, how to communicate in-person and remotely, as well as advice and lessons learned through mentorship whether acting as mentor or mentee. The session is on the Plastics News YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5exb6IIj54E) if you’d like more information.

“Jinny is a strong proponent of mentorship and has benefited from being engaged as both a mentor and mentee during her career. Being a mentor has many benefits, especially if you’re open to learning from your mentees. I have learned a lot from the people I have mentored, especially Jinny,” said DelGado.

A roadmap for success
“It’s the Year to Volunteer,” Susan Avery wrote in this year’s February/March issue of IAPD’s Performance Plastics magazine, and I agree. Although I would say that every year is the year to volunteer if you want to advance the performance plastics industry, expand your network and develop leadership experience, as volunteering in IAPD can help you accomplish these goals.

Here’s the bottom line: If you can share advice or provide support, challenge yourself to mentor someone. If you are in a position to advocate, champion for or create an opportunity, challenge yourself to sponsor someone. If you are looking to get noticed, challenge yourself to ask for an assignment that will showcase your talents and then contribute in a notable way. You can’t ask for a sponsor, but you can articulate what you do well that can help a potential sponsor further their initiatives. When they ask you to get involved, say yes. Doing so could just be the next pivotal moment in your career.

Jinny Kcehowski is the associate director of training and development for Curbell Plastics, Inc. For more information, contact Curbell Plastics, Inc. at 7 Cobham Drive, Orchard Park, NY 14127-4180 USA, phone (716) 667-3377, fax (716) 667-3432, customerservice@curbellplastics.com or www.curbellplastics.com.