Mary Choi Kelly – Inline Plastics
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Andrew Melson
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
In 2020, when companies across the world were shutting down or downsizing, Inline Plastics was ramping up operations. As a manufacturing company in the food packaging industry, it was considered an essential business, so its plants in Connecticut, Utah and Georgia never hit the off switch.
Inline Plastics provides plastic containers to a variety of businesses, from grocery stores to restaurants. This includes the company’s Safe-T-Fresh products, which, with innovative, patented technology, are tamper evident and tamper resistant.
Inline Plastics has several other packaging products for which the demand increased exponentially in 2020. The problem, however, was the rapidly dwindling workforce to create those products and get them to clients.
With Mary Choi Kelly joined the team in March 2020, first as a consultant and then as chief people and culture officer, she dove into her first, urgent task: Building a workforce, so the company could continue its business while meeting increased demand.
“Inline Plastics wasn’t alone in the hiring struggle that was impacting companies around the world—and its rapid growth, while welcome, made the circumstances all the more challenging,” recalls Kelly, who drew upon her 26 years of experience in human resources, talent management and recruitment to help the company navigate the unprecedented obstacles.
Packaging a confident team
Kelly’s experience and reputation became essential, especially her experience leading a start-up and teams of more than 150.
“I had to roll up my sleeves and get very involved in day-to-day priorities at Inline which has a much more compact team of eight,” she says.
So, she leveraged her connections and identified a network of experts who could assist her in bringing in a team of hourly, temporary and full-time workers. By August 2020, Inline Plastics had over 100 temps, which more than doubled by July 2021.
She then put together new recruitment processes to support all plant locations. This included establishing a clear and consistent method of hiring and implementing a recruiting toolkit with interview questions and a panel interview process. She also built relationships with staffing and temporary staffing agencies for the plant in Connecticut and the company’s locations in Utah and Georgia.
“I wanted to ensure that we got a temporary workforce into the plant as soon as possible, but I also wanted to help the company build a strong recruiting and hiring foundation that it could build upon for years to come,” she says.
In a short amount of time, she was able to get people in the door and on the manufacturing line at Inline Plastics. She credits this success to her past experiences with crisis management. She faced a somewhat similar situation while working at Bank of America when over a million people went into foreclosure during the 2008 financial crisis. Within six months, she helped the mortgage servicing department ramp up from approximately 10,000 employees to 40,000.
At Inline, however, her work was just beginning. She also had to ensure the training of these employees, many of whom were filling entry-level positions as packers and helping with assembly. These roles require taking products off the line, inspecting them, packaging them and then shipping them. With minimal time for training and with the work being temporary, many of the incoming workers found these steps overwhelming.
So, Kelly retooled the training to break it up into steps, such as learning a task like boxing and feeling successful before moving to the next step.
“Temporary workers or not, my aim is to always make employees feel confident and comfortable in what they are doing,” Kelly says.
Successfully managing crises with aplomb
Kelly was happy to help Inline Plastics weather the crisis, something she’s done before for other companies.
She was the senior vice president of talent and organization effectiveness at MGM Resorts International when, on Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on the crowd attending a music festival in Las Vegas, killing 60 and wounding hundreds. In response to this tragic incident, she learned how to lead a team to respond to crises quickly and with care.
One of the main things she implemented was clear communication at all levels, from leadership to every team member. She brought this approach to Inline Plastics as well.
With around 800 employees, Inline Plastics is a far cry from the tens of thousands of employees for whom Kelly has previously managed recruiting and talent management alongside workplace culture. Fortunately, according to her, Inline Plastics’ CEO understands the importance of a strong, welcoming, diverse and inclusive workplace.
When hired, she conducted one-on-one interviews with members of the leadership team to understand their vision and values. Together, they defined six main values for the company: Inspire innovation, persevere to perform, drive collaboration, communicate with candor, lead with inclusivity and humility, and devotion to service—all of which are feedback points in employee performance evaluations of leaders.
Kelly developed these values through focus groups of around 100 hourly and salaried employees from all locations and departments.
The psychology of happiness
Kelly obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Irvine in 1992 and her doctorate in organizational psychology from Alliant International University in Los Angeles four years later.
Her current goal is to continue helping organizations grow through assisting them in developing and building inclusive and effective cultures. Part of that is mentoring and guiding others, so she founded and became the chief change agent for MCK Leadership Talent Group in 2019.
That same year, she also co-founded and became a board member of Women’s Hospitality Initiative, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit through which she and others develop and implement programs for women to grow and achieve leadership positions.
“I want to continue to learn and grow as a person—and I feel like I get a chance to do that every day at Inline Plastics and my other endeavors,” Kelly says.
View this feature in the Vol. III 2023 Edition here.
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