When Sarah Sassorossi, Plant Superintendent, and Sarah Pumphrey, Plant Engineer, started working at Sonoco, they were both interns just finishing their freshman years at college.
During their internships, both women experienced the supportive and exciting work culture at Sonoco — a global provider of a variety of consumer packaging, industrial products, protective packaging and displays and packaging supply chain services — and were inspired to keep working at the company.
“I enjoyed my experience so much that I ended up coming back for three additional summers as an intern at different Sonoco paper mills,” says Sassorossi. After which, she started her first full-time position in 2017 as a Process Engineer in Sonoco’s Emerging Leaders Program.
For Pumphrey, her career journey at Sonoco also continued with a series of internships throughout college, before joining Sonoco as a Process Engineer at the Holyoke paper mill full-time upon graduation. She was in this role for about two years before she transitioned into her current role as a Plant Engineer about eight months ago.
We spoke with both of these leaders to learn more about what made them stay at Sonoco after interning at the company, the opportunities Sonoco provides for career development and how they’ve grown in their careers.
Tell me about your current role.
Sassorossi: As the Plant Superintendent, I’m responsible for the safe, efficient operation of our paper machine. I lead our production department, where I’m involved in a variety of activities, including coaching team members, forecasting labor needs, working on capital projects to improve our paper machine and troubleshooting daily activities. I love problem-solving, and I really enjoy working with my team to solve problems, allowing for more efficient operations of our plant.
Pumphrey: I manage the maintenance department and reliability activities for the mill. Our goal is to work safely with Production to meet our metrics by improving equipment reliability. To me, the most exciting part of this role is the learning opportunities. Coming up as a Process Engineer and not necessarily having a maintenance background, I enjoy when different pieces of equipment get taken apart, and I can poke around and ask questions. There are many unique pieces of equipment in a paper mill!
What made you want to join Sonoco as a full-time employee?
Sassorossi: During my summer internships, I felt valued as a contributor and was fully welcomed as part of the team. I saw this in a few different ways, from attending various on-site training events to seeing them implement the solutions that I proposed to reduce losses. I also saw Sonoco’s commitment to safety and knew I wanted to work for a company whose ethics aligned with my own.
Pumphrey: Throughout my internships, I had the opportunity to work at three paper mills and had positive experiences at each one. I felt the same family culture and was given meaningful projects as an intern. I could even turn projects into my own and make a difference at the mill level. I was also involved in the day-to-day operations.
Have you taken advantage of any professional development programs during your time at your company?
Sassorossi: I’ve had the opportunity to do several professional development programs! At the end of my first year, I attended Sonoco’s Leadership Fundamentals program, a week-long leadership development program for front-line leaders and future supervisors. Earlier this year, I attended the Duke Leadership Program. I’ve taken away many ideas from both programs, and I love having the opportunity to examine my own professional development.
Pumphrey: I’ve gone through several trainings, including Leadership Fundamentals, Kepner Tregeo, Lean Six Sigma and a Maintenance and Reliability Diploma Series through NC State.
Have you had a mentor/sponsor?
Sassorossi: I met my mentor during my first month of college! She also works at Sonoco and is a fellow alumna of the Paper Science & Engineering program at North Carolina State University. She was on a Women in Paper panel, and I spoke with her afterward at a networking event. We stayed in touch throughout college. Since I joined Sonoco full-time, we still have monthly phone calls. She’s been a voice that I’ve relied on for the past nine years for guidance and support, and I’m so happy our paths crossed.
Pumphrey: I don’t have an official mentor/sponsor, but I have definitely used different people to fill this role along the way. I tend to gravitate to different people as mentors when I’m looking for advice in different situations.
How else does Sonoco empower you to grow your career?
Sassorossi: Sonoco has allowed me to take on leadership roles with high levels of responsibility early on in my career. I moved into a Plant Engineer role shortly after being a Process Engineer for two years. As a Plant Engineer, I directly managed all of the reliability activities in the mill, including all of our maintenance technicians, inventory management, large capital improvement projects and reliability projects.
It was a huge opportunity to lead earlier than I expected, but my Plant Manager, Technical Manager and many others helped me succeed. A year and a half later, the transition to Plant Superintendent wasn’t as scary, even though my department quadrupled in size!
Pumphrey: Sonoco is great at encouraging professional development and training. They’re interested in what you want your career to look like and encourage trying new things, rather than just putting you on a set path.
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
Sassorossi: I am proactive, so small problems don’t become big problems. Good communication skills, solid personal relationships, risk identification, organization and an eye for numbers and patterns contribute to this skill. I try to stay ahead of administrative work and things with a deadline for submission so that I can shift my focus to the pressing needs of the day. Finally, I try to be honest when I’ve made a mistake so the right resources can be involved to correct that mistake. A lot of stress and heartache can be avoided by jumping on problems that need to be solved.
Pumphrey: I’m willing to take on new opportunities and challenges. It gives me the chance to ask questions and learn about something I might not have otherwise!
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Sassorossi: When I was in school, I had the opportunity to have a coaching session with an executive of a paper company that came in for a lecture. He told me to get as much experience in different areas early in my career because it can be challenging to move between other areas later. I thought about that advice when I decided to move into the Plant Engineer job because I’d never considered maintenance before. I’m really happy that I listened to his advice. It provided me with a whole world of opportunities.
Pumphrey: Keep an open mind when it comes to your career progression. Don’t disregard an opportunity just because it wasn’t necessarily in your “plan.” If you were to ask me when I started with Sonoco, I definitely wouldn’t have said I’d be in this role in two years’ time!
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