To Ashley Halfman, her journey to vice president and general counsel of Printpack, a world-leading flexible and rigid packaging company, is like something out of a fairytale. “I sometimes compare myself to Goldilocks,” she says with a laugh. “I started out at one of the largest law firms in the world, then I worked for a small boutique law firm, and then I ended up at Miller & Martin, which is a mid-sized firm, before coming to Printpack.”
And from the moment she joined Printpack, Halfman says, it has felt just right.
“When I first met with the former general counsel for an interview, he shared a booklet with me, this little printed booklet that has all the names of the recipients of Printpack’s service awards,” Halfman says. “We give out service awards for everyone who has been here twenty years and longer, and many of our associates have been here twenty, thirty, even forty years.”
“So, it was just page after page after page of names in that booklet,” Halfman continues, “and that longevity at one company is very unusual in this day and age.”
The booklet made a big enough impression on Halfman that she decided to join the Printpack family in September 2016 as associate general counsel. And as she quickly learned, that word—family—was the not-so-secret key to the long careers of all the names she had seen listed in that booklet.
“We are a family-owned company. We have been since our inception—Mr. J. Erskine Love Jr. started the company in a basement with one machine and one associate, and the Love family has been at the helm of the company for the last sixty-four years,” Halfman says. “And it still retains that family atmosphere today.”
The company’s core values were created back in the 1950s, Halfman explains, but they are still the “bedrock” of Printpack’s culture and operations today. “Those values are just about treating people right,” Halfman says simply. “They’re about caring about people. Every workplace talks about their culture or tries to define their culture. But I think the proof is in the pudding here.”
Halfman herself has made a point of contributing to that culture through a women’s initiative called Inspire. “Inspire has been around for eleven years now,” says Halfman, who serves on the Inspire leadership team, “and our mission is two-fold: to attract and retain female associates and to support a strong leadership pipeline for women.”
Perspectives on Leadership
In addition to her titles as vice president and general counsel, Ashley Halfman also holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve on Printpack’s senior leadership team. But that “first” designation does not reflect the true culture of the company, she says.
“We have really great representation of women on the managerial level,” the GC explains. “I’ve been very fortunate, here and early on with my mentors, to have other people who advocated for me because they saw how hard I worked. It’s important to me that people inside and outside of Printpack know that, as a company, we embrace diverse perspectives.”
Although many of Inspire’s projects—such as the effort to establish well-equipped, private mother’s rooms at each of its nineteen facilities in the US and Mexico—center strongly on women, the initiative also aims broadly to enrich the lives of all Printpack associates.
“We hold a yearly leadership forum that any Printpack leaders can attend and sponsor a monthly networking lunch group for everyone in our Atlanta locations. The Inspire team is just a really amazing, dedicated group of women who have worked very hard to make life better for everyone across the company,” Halfman says.
Thanks to initiatives like Inspire and the family atmosphere cultivated by the company’s leadership, Halfman says, the average Printpack associate stays with the company for twelve years, and a large number of associates have been there twenty years or more. However, there is one notable challenge associated with that statistic—namely, the imminent retirement of the company’s numerous veteran associates.
“A lot of these longtime associates have already started to retire, including our former general counsel and several other senior executives,” the GC says. “One positive effect is that we have some fresh, new perspectives in our leadership and in our senior ranks. But on the downside, we are also losing a great deal of expertise and institutional knowledge.”
As a result, attracting and retaining talented people is one of Printpack’s top priorities right now, Halfman says. The company has been reviewing its pay and benefits packages as well as all of the “intangibles” that factor into associate engagement. It has recently undergone a study to ensure its pay and benefits are in line with the industry standard, and has also enhanced its vacation, teleworking, and paternal leave policies.
As general counsel, Halfman has been playing a key role in those efforts, helping other department leaders ensure that their policies are not only best-in-class but also compliant with all relevant laws and regulations. And that can be a challenge, she notes, given all the recent regulatory changes at both state and municipal levels regarding things like sick leave, paternal leave, and other paid time off.
To Halfman and the other members of the senior leadership team, that challenge is more than worth taking.
“We’ve worked hard to attract top talent, to make sure that our workforce is diverse and inclusive, and to incentivize the performance of our younger or newer folks who are moving up into leadership positions,” Halfman says. “There are a lot of initiatives still in progress, but our leadership recognizes how important this is—we want to continue to be an employer of choice and attract folks who feel that they are being treated well, and that they are part of the family.”
Alston & Bird gladly congratulates Ashley Halfman on her well-deserved recognition. Our commitment to Printpack dates back several decades, with founders of both organizations working side by side to grow this notable packaging company. We look forward to working with Ashley as she continues guiding Printpack toward ever greater prosperity.