Lisa Propati is the General Manager of the WLS division of ProMach.
ProMach is a family of best-in-class processing and packaging solution brands serving manufacturers of all sizes and geographies in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, personal care, and household and industrial goods industries. ProMach brands serve the production line, starting with solutions for the product processing equipment design and operate across a wide range of the packaging spectrum: primary packaging, secondary packaging, labeling and coding, pharmaceutical, and systems and integration.
WLS, as part of ProMach’s pharmaceutical business line, designs, manufactures, integrates and supports sophisticated, technologically advanced rotary and in-line pressure sensitive labeling and label printing solutions for the pharmaceutical and other industries.
Q: Lisa, can you tell readers a bit about yourself, personally and professionally?
Of course. Personally, I am married and have twin boys who are in college. My husband is self-employed, and I have three stepchildren who are already established in their careers as a teacher, a police officer and an electrical engineer. I am an active outdoor person, a group fitness instructor at my local gym, and I love sports and engage in everything competitive or challenging. I also tend to seek out challenges in my professional life.
I started college right after high school and, thinking I already knew everything, dropped out when I was 20. After spending a few years working at a clerical job with a manufacturing company within the printing industry, I realized that – in fact – I did not know everything and decided to go back to school at night; I finished my degree some years later.
I continued working at the same manufacturing company the entire time and moved from the clerical job through multiple promotions, I ended my time with that company as the Plant Financial Manager. I attribute this growth to hard work, perseverance, and a little bit of luck of being in the right place at the right time. My progression and growth was also accelerated through the mentoring provided by managers who saw I was willing to listen and learn.
One very notable lesson about setting and exceeding expectations stands out more than most. The lesson was to be successful you must always have tangible, measurable goals and a plan to reach those goals. My mentors helped me find a path to success, and eventually I obtained the confidence I needed to be successful on my own. Their belief in me helped me believe in myself.
After years with this company, I moved on to a higher-level finance role at a company that made sugar-free sweetener. When my twin boys were born, I recognized I needed a better work-life balance, so after years in manufacturing, I went to work in the financial industry in mutual fund operations. The job in financial operations did not require the same hours and the pace was slower. The time-management dilemma between wanting to be a good mom and wanting to continue my career was challenging, but I was able to find an acceptable balance. Once my kids went to school, I knew I had to get back into manufacturing, because I felt that was where the action and my passion was. From this point, until I joined WLS, I held positions at various manufacturing companies while continuously challenging my professional abilities and still maintaining the work-life balance I required.
Even though my career was progressing, I still felt like I needed more of a challenge and that is when the Controller position at WLS came into my view. I began my career at WLS in 2009 as the Controller and had responsibility for Finance, IT, Materials Management, and Human Resources. When WLS joined ProMach, the president of WLS decided to retire, and I was asked if I would be interested in the job. I was both excited and nervous, but I knew that an opportunity like this would not be offered every day, and I was up for the challenge, so I said yes! I still have that excitement today and it truly has been my favorite job! Each day has been an opportunity to learn and to work with the team to improve and grow!
Q: Lisa, you mentioned that you have two kids, twin boys. Did you ever feel that as a woman, you would have to choose between having a family and a career?
No. I mean, not in the big picture, but that is not to say that it was easy. To have both a career and children, I had to be very organized and set priorities. In setting these priorities, some less important things fell off the radar. In smaller, individual circumstances, certainly choices had to be made and priorities had to be chosen. For example, most of my free time was spent on the sidelines of a field or stadium watching some sort of sport instead of spending time with my friends. I shifted by making new friends who were the moms of other players. We were like-minded parents and built friendships which I still have today. I gave up on long vacations and used my time off to attend school and sporting events with my children. But I never really had to make a larger, philosophical choice between “career” and “family.” I chose jobs that afforded me the opportunity to manage both. I think any person – regardless of gender – must find the right job that works for their priorities.
Q: What made you decide to pursue a career in manufacturing, in which companies are often populated by many more males than females?
Before I had a degree, my first job was in manufacturing and the demographic was predominantly male, but I honestly never considered the industry demographics. Instead, I focused on the fun of seeing something made from start to finish. I liked working with the entire cross-functional team in manufacturing. In every manufacturing position I held, it was common to work with large groups of people towards solving problems. I really enjoy that dynamic.
The manufacturing environment appeals to me and provides me strong motivation to go to work. I looked past the demographics and focused on the job, the interactions and the teams!
Q: Lisa, what advice would you give to other women who want to pursue leadership roles in a manufacturing environment?
To be totally clear, my advice would be the same for men and women… Find a profession and industry that you like and that you are passionate about. Finding a company that shares your goals of work-life balance and employee focus is very important. Then work hard, be honest, be a team player and be genuine. Be confident that no matter what your gender, you have the skills to succeed. Educate yourself on your industry, and never stop learning. I have a sign in my office that inspires me every day. It’s a quote from Louis L’Amour that says, “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” It reminds me every day…never stop setting goals.
Q: Have you ever encountered someone in your career that had preconceived notions about what a leader in the packaging industry should be like?
Yes. I was at my first trade show as the leader of WLS. I was talking with one of our vendors who didn't realize that my role at WLS was General Manager. We had been discussing our companies’ business relationship, and it took him about 5-6 minutes before he realized my position in the company. He was visibly surprised, and his tone changed. It was clear he had not considered the possibility that a woman could be the leader of the company. He adapted and the conversation was great. He even wanted me to speak at his company event about women in leadership. We have maintained a great relationship. I was nervous going into that trade show because it was my first one in my new role, but I simply focused on the responsibilities I had as the GM of WLS, and it went well.
I have been fortunate in that I have not really had to endure a lot of visible gender bias in a leadership role or in other roles. If someone works in a situation with a lot of gender bias, I really empathize, because I know it does exist in some settings and it can be extremely difficult to overcome. For me, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by good people and good companies. When interviewing for a job, I look for an immediate supervisor who shares common goals and ideals that lead to forming a cohesive team. My advice to others is to interview the company you are going to work for as much as they are interviewing you!
Q: What would you advise to someone who does feel that they are in those circumstances, where their gender, or some other factor is subject to some sort of preconceived bias?
If that role is your passion, and you run into bias-related roadblocks at that company, be creative and find out what you must do to dispel those biases. If you have exhausted all possibilities for change and the bias remains the same, find a role at another company where that type of bias isn’t present. It sounds terrible that I am suggesting leaving a job, but life is short and sometimes you spend more time at work than at home, so you need to find an opportunity that makes you feel valued, appreciated, and happy.
Companies have cultures; find one that thinks like you. Every company is different with different leadership, different opportunities and different ways to contribute. Find one that is a good for the asset that you are and that shares your passion.
Q: Finally, Lisa, what advice would you give to women who would like to pursue certain dreams but are concerned gender discrimination could derail them?
Well, as I said on a prior question, my advice would be the same for men, women, anyone… First and foremost is to have confidence in yourself and your ability. Sometimes the biggest obstacle can be the voice in your own head telling you that you don’t belong. Do not short-change yourself. Anywhere that you have the right skill sets and shared vision, is where you belong. Find a good mentor; when you find someone who believes in you, you will believe in yourself! And that will last! Slow down, talk to people more, be relatable and genuine. Spend as much or more time listening than you do with your nose to the grindstone; when you understand people’s motivations, you will work much better together. And finally, you will make mistakes… that’s okay! Work hard to overcome them.