Lee Alton - Bobst Group
The packaging industry is thriving and this diverse sector offers real opportunity to apply your skills and personality to the right role. From designers, to production staff, management, sales and brand development – there’s a range of careers in the packaging industry to suit a variety of interests and skills.
Do you fancy working in a fast-paced technical environment where no two days are the same, earn a good salary and have travel opportunities? If so, a job in machinery sales for the packaging industry could be for you.
In our latest Cartonville Stars series, we catch up with Lee Alton, North England and Scotland Area Sales Manager for Bobst Group about life at one of the leading packaging equipment suppliers.
How does your day start?
My morning often starts with going through emails, getting back to people and booking in appointments with customers. As I’m a key account manager for a large area of the country travelling is a huge part of my job, so my day often starts out on the road, which is a brilliant way of getting out there and meeting people in the industry.
How did you get to where you are?
My career path has been quite a journey, working my way up from starting out aged 16 to where I am now. Originally I wanted to go into the Junior Parachute Regiment but after a change of plan I thought the packaging industry could offer me travel opportunities and the chance to do an apprenticeship with a company. At first I had the choice of either going into printing or conversion (the process of making the cartonboard into boxes). I chose conversion as I saw it as an opportunity to progress very well with the business through hard work.
What was your apprenticeship like?
It was a fantastic experience as not only did I learn about the industry but I was earning money while studying – a great bonus when you’re a student! It involved a four-year work and study-based City and Guilds course in carton and box manufacture at Kitson College in Leeds and it really helped to give me the knowledge I needed to boost my career.
You eventually swapped working for a carton manufacturer to selling packaging machines. Why was that?
Well, I worked for 10 years in carton manufacturing before joining Bobst. A machinery installation engineer was setting up a machine at the packaging conversion company I worked at and it looked a great way of developing my career in packaging.
What has been your career pattern at Bobst?
When I first started at Bobst I travelled around carton companies training machinery operators, but to do that I had to train for a year alongside an experienced engineer before I could carry out the work on my own. The sales side of the folded carton equipment business always appealed to me and I’ve travelled around the US, Japan and Europe in a support role between the marketing and development departments. Eventually the opportunity came up for an area sales manager role and I went for it!
What are the major challenges of your job?
Gaining vital technical knowledge throughout my time at Bobst has been invaluable for advising companies about buying the machine and then helping through any process hiccups once the machine is up and running. Sometimes there are teething problems and although I don’t run the machine myself these days, my extensive technical knowledge means I have the ability to trouble-shoot any difficulties.
So having the chance to work for both sides of the industry was beneficial?
Absolutely – it was so important and vital to my future career path. I gained the knowledge needed to be able work for a supplier that deals with carton manufacturers.
What do you love about your job?
Everyday I travel and have to deal with people from all levels within a company to help and advise on purchasing a Bobst machine. It is so rewarding to improve a company’s productivity and improve the quality of their work.
What are the most important skills needed for your job?
Great project management, negotiating ability and closing deal skills are essential. My past technical experience of working on the machines has enabled me to have a greater understanding of what packaging companies are trying to achieve.
What advice do you have for a young person thinking about a career working for a packaging machinery supplier?
There are lots of opportunities in the packaging industry if you are prepared to be ambitious. It is not just about knowing how the machine works but it is all the other business elements too and building the relationship with the customer. You can have a very good life from this job as well as a great salary and travel opportunities – if you are prepared to work hard.