Ladder to the top
Mentors and experience helped pave the way for Tredegar CEO
Not every executive wants to sweep a manufacturing floor. Yet when Nancy M. Taylor was a divisional president for Richmond-based Tredegar Corp., she did that job and others at many of the company’s U.S. facilities. Occasionally pulling an eight- to 12-hour shift, she says, provides valuable insight into a plant’s operation.
“It helps you sort out what’s going on at a plant … You see in a much more in-depth way than you would walking through a plant for a couple of hours.”
Employees are skeptical at first. Yet Taylor says once they realize it’s not a publicity stunt — “I don’t let people take photos” then everyone just gets down to work. “They have skills you don’t have in that context, and you ask them questions. It’s very powerful, and they’re receptive.”
Besides sweeping the floor, Taylor has helped with packaging and carrying product samples to a lab for quality testing. “I learn something more about our pressures, our products, our challenges,” says Taylor. “I’m very energized by it.”
Today, Taylor is president and CEO at Tredegar where she continues to occasionally work in a plant. Tredegar, which had revenue of $961 million last year, employs about 2,700 people in the U.S. and abroad. About 131 people work for the company in Richmond, home to its corporate headquarters, the Film Products Division and a technical center.
When Taylor took the reins in Feb. 2010, she felt well prepared for the job.
Two of the company’s former CEOs, Norman A. Scher and John Gottwald (who continues to serve on the board of directors) committed to helping her professional development early on. “I had two really strong mentors at Tredegar, and that makes a big difference for women. I was in a pretty male-dominated industry.”
Since Taylor had worked for the company 19 years, beginning as an assistant general counsel in 1991 and moving up through the ranks, she was well versed in its culture and corporate governance.
Taylor was named general counsel in 1997 and by 2005 became president of Tredegar Film Products. In 2009, she added corporate business development to her responsibilities.
After she was named CEO, “I didn’t feel I had to win over the board. I didn’t have internal battles as I came into the role.”
Still, running a global company isn’t easy. Tredegar, which was spun off from the Ethyl Corp. in 1989, has seven international film plants in Brazil (2) , China (2) , The Netherlands, India and Hungary. Taylor tries to visit these locations at least once every two years.
Tredegar’s films are used in many personal care products, including feminine hygiene products and baby diapers, while the aluminum extrusions have applications ranging from construction to electrical and transportation markets.
Keeping a competitive advantage in multiple markets is a challenge, says Taylor. “You have to understand the trends in the market, and you have to make adjustments.”
Maintaining a work/life balance is another challenge for working women. When Taylor was assigned to oversee the European operations for the company’s film products, she took her three children — who were in elementary school at the time — with her. The experience turned out to be broadening for her family, she says, because the children traveled with her throughout Europe and learned how to navigate in a non English-speaking environment.
At home, the family’s backbone has been a longtime nanny.
“She’s the woman behind the woman,” says Taylor, who employed the nanny back when a now college-age child was an infant.
While Taylor has taken time off from work to help at her children’s schools, there are areas where she feels she has made personal sacrifices because of her job. “I sacrificed in two places: personal time for me and having time to do community activities.”
When Taylor speaks to women’s groups, she tells them to “focus on the corporate culture of a company and make a decision as to if the company’s values align with yours.”
She also encourages women in senior positions to be supportive of other women executives. “I was the only woman for years in the senior ranks” at her company, she says “and that can be lonely.”
As for advice, “Women need to be confident in what they’re bringing to the table. You are bringing value. You have a lot to offer. Sometimes it just takes women longer to develop that confidence.”