But then Michelle pretty much cracks every professional and personal pursuit she takes on, having made an early go-getting start while studying industrial psychology in Port Elizabeth. Student life was a blast, she remembers fondly, as she spotted the earning and experience potential in making herself useful at Times Media, reading the news on community radio and starting her own business founded on alcohol: not bootlegging, but an in-store market research venture for which she enlisted friends to conduct promotions and events for SAB, Absolut vodka and similar brands.
A career in marketing inexorably evolved and has gone on to encompass brand management and development, consumer research, communications and strategy.
During a 15-year stint in the UK and Europe, her Cadbury-branded panel van became a welcome chocolate-goodie-bearing sight for newsagents across many counties. Her positivity gauge never dipped below a glass and a half full.
Experience followed in sales forecasting and exports and she collaborated with chocolatiers and chefs on recipes for gift confectionery and new products, managing some of Britain’s most loved brands. It was a career for which every aspiring marketer would have forfeited the world’s last Curly Wurly and kept Michelle permanently on Bubbly cloud nine.
At Premier Foods in Hertfordshire, she added sparkle to leading brands such as Loyd Grossman Premium Sauces and OXO, perfecting the art of thinking out of the cube judging by the words of a colleague, who declared her ‘always positive, achieving results with and through others, and combining strong analysis and consumer insight with tenacity and a steely determination’.
During that time, she headed value optimisation projects such as the switch from glass to PET for peanut butter and jams, and a portfolio extension to jam in squeezy plastic for child fun and safety.
Her international experience developed in her a great appreciation for the functional and aesthetic value of packaging, which she brought back to home soil in 2013, where she joined the Polyoak Packaging family in the mother of all cities. Now, as Polyoak national executive: marketing and sustainability, Michelle immerses herself daily in the quest to preserve the earth through providing responsible choices for increasingly environment-conscious consumers.
She was there when Polyoak made South Africa’s first converter pledge to keep pellets out of the environment and when it smashed a target of diverting 92% of waste from landfill. That it supplies the most recycled beverage packaging in the country is a great achievement, she states.
‘It’s critical as a packaging specialist to understand what consumers want and how to enhance their overall brand experience while treating our world with the utmost respect,’ she adds.
‘After seven years, I’m still struck by Polyoak people’s commitment to the environment. Here, multi-department work on sustainability projects is like pushing on an open door, with solid support right from the top.’
As a founding member of the SA Plastics Pact, Polyoak will soon unveil recycled content plans and innovative end-use markets for post-consumer packaging.
There is a measure of self interest in Michelle’s sustainability efforts – as often as she can, she ‘drags’ husband Graham, son Dexter (10) and daughter Seren (eight) across the winding Cape roads less travelled to soak in the wonders of the country. Dirt tracks are a particular joy.
Her family is used to what another co-worker called her ‘can do’ attitude. ‘Michelle’s passion to succeed and enthusiasm also drive those around her to meet (and exceed) goals,’ the commendation read. ‘She copes well with change and always hits her deadlines.’
All, perhaps, except the succession of self-imposed cut-off dates for her debut novel, about which she says she doesn’t want to divulge too much in case the story never sees the ink roller on a Heidelberg. Somehow, we doubt that will be the case.