FTA Emerging Leaders Committee Member Tessa Libby on Accumulating Experience as a Millennial in Flexography

Tessa Libby, a technical representative at All Printing Resources Inc (APR), didn’t expect to find herself in the flexographic industry. But while in the graphic communications program at California Polytechnic State University, she was inspired by her professor Dr. Malcolm Keif to apply for the FFTA Rossini North America Flexographic Research Scholarship.

From then, her flexo journey took off. She received a Rossini Scholarship twice—in 2009 for her research on direct laser engraving systems, and in 2010 for researching benchmarking characteristics of functional printed electronics for flexography. In 2010 she also participated in the Phoenix Challenge, which she recalls as a “great teamwork experience and applicable introduction to the flexo industry.”

Here, Libby talks more about her career path and what it’s like to work in the industry has a Millennial.

FTA: Talk about your career path and how you arrived at APR.

Libby: I graduated from Cal Poly’s graphic communication program in 2011. That spring, I attended the quarterly job fair within the department where I met Craftsman Label, a narrow web label printer near Portland, OR. I interviewed with them that day and was offered a position on the spot.

I traveled to Portland to visit the area and the facility before accepting the job as production analyst and starting in July. Production analyst essentially meant scheduling—I was involved in day-to-day processing of all jobs from customer service to pressroom, coordinating all aspects of all jobs for all presses. Three-plus years with Craftsman Label was a really valuable experience because it added on to my schooling knowledge to truly prepare me for APR.

I started looking for other opportunities after being with Craftsman for three years because I felt like I needed to work for a different type of company (like a distributor) in order to advance my career. I landed at APR through a networking connection between a Cal Poly professor of mine and someone I had met at FTA’s FORUM in Las Vegas in 2010, who was an APR employee at the time. I begin at APR as a part of the Technical Solutions Group and moved into a technical sales rep role after one and a half years.

FTA: As a technical representative at APR, what does a typical work day look like?

Libby: I am essentially a sales person, but technical representative sounds better, right? Day to day, I have to balance between maintaining existing business, securing new business at existing accounts, and acquiring new business from new accounts. I also balance my time between working from my home office (lots of phone and email time) and traveling (car and airplane) to visit customers.

Being in sales is definitely a self-motivated job; I do not have a boss in an office nearby breathing down my neck. Since I have a lot of freedom and flexibility in my role, it is important I stay focused, motived and productive. It is so true that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

FTA: What do you like about working in this industry?

Libby: Printing has been an exciting industry to work in—never a dull moment; always something new to learn. I often joke with customers that if flexo was simple and didn’t have as many variables or options, then I would be out of a job. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in flexo, so it’s an ongoing learning process.

FTA: Going to school to study a field and working in that field are always two very different things. When you were in school, how did you envision working in the flexographic industry would be, and how has it been different?

Libby: People outside of the flexo/printing industry are often surprised to find out that I actually work in the industry that I went to school for. Actually, a lot of my customers are even surprised that I went to school to study printing. I actually started in Cal Poly’s graphic communication program thinking I wanted to be a graphic designer (is that cliché?). I was definitely inspired by one of my professors, Dr. Keif, who was the head of the packaging concentration, and he became a mentor of mine.

Dr. Keif was the one who suggested I apply for the FFTA Rossini North America Flexographic Research Scholarship. From there, I went on to win two Rossini scholarships, which both took me to FORUM. I then got involved in the Phoenix Challenge team and from there I was destined to go into flexo as a career.

So it was not actually my intention to be in the flexographic industry, but it has worked out for me!