Shelley Porter is director of innovation excellence at Eastman and is at the forefront of innovative initiatives at the corporate level. We sat down with Shelley to get the scoop on what she does and who she is—in and out of Eastman.
Give us some background on what you do at Eastman.
Most of my career has been all about people. I discovered pretty early on that I enjoy leading teams and working with individuals on their career development, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to apply this skill set to a variety of roles. I am currently director of innovation excellence within Corporate Innovation and am responsible for Eastman’s Corporate Technology Fund, which provides funding for innovation initiatives at the corporate level as well as technology development for platforms that apply across businesses. My organization has an extraordinary group of people who provide information services and project and innovation process leadership.
What is your business known for?
In Corporate Innovation, our role is to recognize and respond to evolving market opportunities and to develop innovative technologies that complement the strategies of Eastman’s businesses. Innovative new products, including Eastman Trēva™ engineering bioplastic, Eastman Naia™ cellulosic yarn and Eastman Vestera™ cellulosic fiber, originated from projects in Corporate Innovation.
What is the next project or product that you are most excited to explore?
I’m privileged to be a member of Eastman’s circular economy platform, and we have several innovation projects underway that are technically challenging in a good way and very exciting. The need for more environmentally sustainable materials in the world has reached a tipping point, and I believe that with our technology platforms and capabilities, Eastman is positioned to make a difference.
What are themes that you find yourself addressing over and over again?
Communication matters! Most of the challenges I’ve observed teams and individuals having during my career haven’t been technical hurdles; they’ve been interpersonal issues. It’s important to seek to understand before jumping to conclusions, to consider the needs of others, and to communicate openly and effectively.
How do #materialsmatter to you?
Without modern materials, much of what we value (and often take for granted) in life wouldn’t exist — things like lifesaving medical device technologies, safer vehicles through advanced tires and safety glass, and packaging that ensures the safety and integrity of our food products. The key is balancing society’s legitimate need for materials development while being good stewards of our natural environment. I believe these goals are not mutually exclusive.
Who is doing work that you find inspiring?
Ellen MacArthur, the famous British yachtswoman and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. I’m impressed by her ability to harness her personal charisma and passion for the environment to convince the public, large corporations and entire governments to pivot from a linear to a circular economy in an incredibly short period of time.
What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
I don’t have many regrets. I’ve learned from every job I’ve had at Eastman and have always worked with very talented people. I would tell myself or anyone else early in their career to spend some time building a professional network outside of your primary workplace for personal and company benefit.
What technology gets you excited?
Advances in machine learning/artificial intelligence. I’m amazed at the speed of the technology evolution and the number of applications we’re starting to see both at work and in everyday life.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you deal with it?
It’s continually challenging to balance the needs for long-term innovation with short-term business needs. Both are critical for the health of the corporation. In all the positions I’ve had, there has been a need to “carry water on both shoulders.” I’ve learned the importance of making choices. Sometimes, worthwhile projects must be set aside to allow us to focus on what’s most important.
What’s something you want to get better at?
I enjoy my people-centered role. It’s a joy to be able to help people grow in their careers, and it’s also a serious responsibility. I continually work on being a better leader, manager and coach (feel free to give me feedback!).
What’s your go-to reference book?
I have several, so it’s hard to pick just one. But from a professional and coaching perspective it’s an oldie but goodie: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven Covey. I read this for the first time nearly 20 years ago, during one of my first leadership courses at Eastman. It’s the book that I find myself recommending most often to people early in their careers, and I regularly check my own priorities and behaviors against the habits.
Coffee or tea?
Android or iOS?
Kindle or book?
Either one. I generally buy e-books, but I am happy to read paper copies too if anyone wants to loan me a good book.
Handwritten notes or computer notes?
I use both, depending on the situation.
What are you reading right now?
I just started a book called “Waste to Wealth: The Circular Economy Advantage.” Natalia Allen, sustainability leader in our textiles business, encouraged those working on Eastman’s circular feedstocks platform to read it. So far, it’s an interesting read on the need for transformational innovation as the world continues to shift toward more environmentally and socially sustainable business models. For personal reading, I’m working on a book about travel in Italy and dreaming of a future vacation!