Jacqueline Wild took a road trip through South Africa that changed her life — a mindset she now applies to revolutionizing the future of packaging and paper
“Everybody told me I was crazy,” Jacqueline Wild says of the time in 1999 when she quit her job and embarked on a road trip through South Africa. “But I remember standing at the edge of the world in Cape Town, looking out at the ocean, and thinking I had made it — I could do anything.”
Born in 1978 in a small village in Austria, Wild is the youngest of four children whose parents ran a toy shop. Wild wasn’t interested in the family business, though — she just wanted to travel. “I wanted to get away from my hometown. It was too small,” she says. After applying for and getting rejected from a job as a flight attendant with Austrian Airlines in high school, Wild returned to her studies, and eventually landed a stable job as an IT consultant in Vienna.
All was going well, but Wild was 21 years old and knew it was the right time for an adventure. Which meant booking a one-way flight to South Africa. “I had never done the great worldwide trip I had planned,” she says. “Quitting my job to travel with no clue where I would land … was the greatest experience of my life.” Almost two decades later, Wild is still seeking out new experiences, as the Head of Digital Solutions for Mondi, a global company that sustainably produces packaging and paper solutions for clients around the globe.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.
You initially wanted to be a flight attendant?
I grew up in a small village called Neunkirchen, a village south of Vienna, and always wanted to see the world. At 16, I thought making money while traveling to different countries sounded great! But my dad said I also had to have a normal job. So I applied to be a financial consultant at a telecommunications company, a job I ended up loving.
Tell us about your role at Mondi.
I’m always trying to figure out how to use technology to enhance the experience and bottom line for our customers. Mondi has about 26,000 employees worldwide, all working to produce different sorts of packaging and paper. I am Head of Digital Solutions — I’ve never had a clear job description.
Mondi has been using automation to make packaging and paper for many years. What was the impetus to bring automation into other areas of the business?
All of our paper machines are fully automatic, taking up entire floors. You put wood pellets in one end and paper comes out the other. It’s like something from Star Trek. We convert these different papers and other materials to numerous packaging solutions for almost all industries worldwide. And now, we’re working with IBM to implement technologies like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and blockchain to HR, payroll and finance.
In the digital era, paper isn’t exactly viewed as a future-leaning industry. But there’s still an enormous amount of business to be done. How does Mondi keep an edge in the marketplace?
Customer demand and usage of paper is changing — people are printing less, but companies also explore paper to make their product or publication stick out in a digitalized world. The renowned Italian online magazine Digitalic, for example, uses a high-quality print issue to show the beauty of technology. By using technologies like AI to handle repetitive work, we free up our employees to focus on helping customers in new ways, which keeps us competitive. A competitive advantage for our customer is a competitive advantage for us — and IBM helps us every step of the way. I began working with them 10 years ago. They’re supportive and always deliver what they promise. It’s a good, long partnership.
Have you found a way to keep your passion for traveling incorporated into your life?
I still love to find adventure. This year, my boyfriend and I are planning to travel through Napa Valley. Wherever we travel — whether it’s China or Chile or Africa — we always book only the flights and the first night’s hotel. The rest is open, so we can decide our journey by the day.