Phil Baerenwald’s undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering may sound almost boring at first, but his jobs in the toy industry and now in the candy business have been anything but.
Baerenwald, president of J.L. Clark, is a creative guy at heart who got his start in research and development.
“I’ve always been in the new products area - creating things from nothing,” he says. “There’s a lot of creative people out there and I really enjoy working with them.”
One of his favorite projects was the Ice Breakers package, which he worked on with Nabisco.
“We went through... at the time developing probably a dozen different concepts, and then refining that concept to make it applicable to their specific needs,” he says. “They wanted to proceed and we helped them.”
Baerenwald, 50, has been with J.L. Clark for 16 years, and has served as president for nine of those. He admits that the leadership role comes with a different set of responsibilities - a far cry from his old gig - but he says he hasn’t completely let go of his old motivations.
“Once you’ve been bitten by the creative bug, you’re always interested in throwing some ideas on the table,” Baerenwald explains. “I try not to get in the way too much, but it’s hard to completely divorce yourself from that fun process. I need a little fun in my day.”
He adds that he’s even learned some life lessons in the business.
“A lot of times you can get caught up in too much detail and sometimes it’s more important to just stick with the overall concept... and then work on the details later,” Baerenwald explains. “That’s true in my personal life too. You shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.”
One of the ways his company allows for a plethora of big picture creativity is by using new technology. Baerenwald says tools such as 3-D electronic models and ProEngineer and AutoCad modeling software, as well as digital printing are changing the industry for the better.
“Instead of spending a week coming up with a single concept, you can spend a lot more time creating multiple concepts,” he explains. “That’s exciting and I think it positions us well.”
Luckily, Baerenwald says he isn’t planning to cut off his own creative juices anytime soon.
“It’s important to challenge what’s going on and not accept it as the given or the way things have to be, because change is critical,” he says. “A lot of things have changed over the last 16 years and you’ve got to embrace it and hopefully lead it.”
For more information, visit www.jlclark.com.