Matt Furrer is a Young Professional on the Fast Track to Success

As a TAPPI Young Professional member, Matt Furrer is excited about his future and the possibilities to excel as an engineer. Landing a job at Georgia Pacific as a Consumer Products Development Engineer is challenging and fulfilling. Matt likes the company’s total compensation for total contribution concept, which allows him to be valued as part of a team and recognized for individual accomplishments. In fact, Matt is frequently recognized for his product development work, and he’s appreciative of his mentor’s guidance to help communicate technical concepts to non-technical colleagues. He knows this skillset will be invaluable as his career progresses toward managerial opportunities.

1. What is your current role? Company?

There’s a simple and complex answer to this question…The simple answer: I was hired by Georgia-Pacific as a Consumer Products Development Engineer at their R&D facility. However, the culture at Georgia-Pacific doesn’t put much weight on “official” job titles. I have many roles and they are not necessarily constrained to my technical background. 

I have many roles related to polymer exploration – this is both a material science and process function. These roles stem from my technical background - previous jobs, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, and university research. I am exposed to many polymers and processes in these roles, of which extrusion coating and injection molding are my expertise. 

I also have a concept development role, in which I am not technically trained. I have been mentored in this role by an accomplished industrial designer within my facility. This role has given me the opportunity work in the beginning stages of the innovation process (rather than the later stages as a product developer). Concept development can range from identifying specific solutions for pre-defined market opportunities to identifying the market opportunities themselves. 

2. What are your job responsibilities?

Most of my work is leading research projects. This can range from solo research to working with large teams in multiple disciplines (marketing, sales, accounting, manufacturing, etc.) These projects can vary from material analysis, consumer studies, product design, and more! My facility has a pilot plant with small scale manufacturing machines and multiple analytical labs of various disciplines, therefore much of the initial research is conducted in-house. As research projects transition to commercialization projects, I often travel to our manufacturing locations across the U.S. to help implement developments on the full-scale equipment.  

3. What led you to where you are now? Talk about previous jobs, school, other life journey that led you to where you are.

I had engineering influences during my childhood who helped me identify my passion for science and engineering. That passion led me to The University of Wisconsin – Madison, where I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. During my time in Madison, I had the opportunity to assist with Ph.D. research in the UW Polymer Engineering Center. It was there that I noticed I had an interest in polymers and mechanics of materials. In addition to that research, I also focused my ME technical electives on polymer science and processing.

Following my co-op, I returned to school where I had two semesters left before graduation. In the fall of my return, I attended a career fair where I was given the opportunity to interview with Georgia-Pacific campus recruiters. This led to an on-site interview and a job offer – which I obviously accepted. I have been with Georgia-Pacific for almost three years.   

4. What is your proudest accomplishment to date?

I have commercialized a few products in my time with Georgia-Pacific. Seeing something that you developed on the store shelf is pretty satisfying.  

5. What is it like being a young professional in this field?

It is mostly positive – all my current colleagues, no matter their level of experience, are always willing to share their knowledge and collaborate to achieve our goals. However, there have been instances in previous jobs where I have met resistance due to my age and profession. Even during these negative experiences, humility and good communication skills usually resolved any issues.  

6. Who is your mentor? What’s a lesson they’ve taught you that you’d want to pass on to others?

As I have mentioned I have a mentor who is currently helping me develop my concept development skills.  Additionally, my first manager (who has since transitioned roles within the company) has continued to provide mentorship. The knowledge he provides is not necessarily always technical in nature, but has been extremely valuable. For example: he’s shown by example multiple techniques for communicating technical concepts to non-technical colleagues. This skill can be as valuable as or more valuable than your technical knowledge.    

7. What are your career aspirations?

At the beginning of my career, I was set on being a product development engineer, i.e. actually doing the experiments, analyzing the data, etc. But recently, I have found myself wanting to transition some of my time to a managerial role. What I failed to realize, was in a managerial or supervisory position, I will still be exposed to the research through my direct reports’ projects. This wide exposure to research projects, plus the chance to mentor and guide my colleagues seems more attractive now.   

8. What motivates you at work?

I am motivated to create long-term value for Georgia-Pacific for many reasons. 

First, I really like what I do. At Georgia-Pacific, the employee’s fulfillment in their work is very important to the company and to the individual.  

Second, I am frequently recognized for my work which shows that my work is truly appreciated by my coworkers and the company.  

Finally, compensation based on quantified value contribution. At GP, and any Market Based Management (MBM®) company, we use a concept called “Total Compensation for Total Contribution”. Rather than relying onpay scales, job templates, seniority levels, etc., this salary structure is highly motivating because my compensation is directly related to the value I create, which has no ceiling. 

matt VW

9. If you could give advice to other young professionals in our industry, what would it be?

Network. The network you create will lead you to new opportunities. This helped me land my co-op and continues to help forward my career.



10. What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?

mt bohemia

I really like working on my cars. I’ve owned nine cars since getting my license – buying and selling them. Six of those cars, including my current car, are Volkswagens and Audis. Fixing, maintaining, and modifying my cars has always been a hobby of mine.

I also enjoy board sports, specifically snowboarding, skateboarding, and wakeboarding. I’ve been skateboarding for over 20 years and snowboarding for 15. Wakeboarding is relatively new to me, but is still very fun. I have a history of snowboarding competitively, however lately I’ve toned it down a bit to recover from old injuries! 

11. Anything else you want to tell us?

I really like my company and especially the management philosophy. I find a lot of fulfillment in my work and feel appreciated for it. I encourage my peers in the field to try to find positions like this. I am excited by the work I do, which makes all the difference!