Word has it that Nick Hotujac knows a thing or two about moldmaking, although the always-modest gentleman won't toot his own horn. However, winning the Moldmaker of the Year 2002 award from the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) (Brookfield, CT) Moldmaking and Mold Design Division is affirmation of what colleagues, employees and family have been witness to for years - Hotujac is a dedicated craftsman whose tireless efforts have kept plastic injection mold builder Kennick Mold & Die, Inc. (Cleveland, OH) in business for more than 45 years.
Born in 1921 in Cleveland, OH, he survived the Depression working in a gas station and setting pins in a bowling alley. He attended East Technical High School - specializing in machine design - and after graduating worked at Graphite Bronze in Cleveland, a stamping plant and bearing factory. He then switched gears, enlisting in the United States Marine Corps in 1942. "I served as an airplane mechanic in a dive bomber squadron in the Pacific until the end of the war in 1945," Hotujac says. "After leaving the Marine Corps, I went back to work in the bearing factory doing machining, inspection and design engineering. I also attended night school - taking Production Tooling, Tool Design and Introduction to Metallurgy classes during this time."
All of this helped Hotujac prepare for his second post-war job in 1951. He went to work for Alloy Precision Casting - also located in Cleveland - for five years. "We made precision investment castings using the frozen mercury process," he recalls. "The process involved pouring mercury into molds then placing them in acetone cooled with dry ice down to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. The solid mercury pattern was then removed from the metal mold and dipped into a liquid mixture of ceramic and Freon. Then, the mercury was melted out. The resulting ceramic pattern was fired and used to cast any type of metal from aluminum to titanium. The process is no longer used since it mainly involved the use of mercury, Freon and acetone."
Starting the Business
It was in 1956 that Ken O'Neill, a former colleague, approached him to start their own moldmaking venture - Kennick Mold & Die. Initially Hotujac had reservations about the venture. "Naturally I was excited, but I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I had a wonderful wife and two daughters at the time."
Kennick Mold & Die joined the SPE in 1958, where Hotujac served on the local board for more than 30 years. In addition, Kennick joined the NTMA in 1972. Unfortunately, O'Neill died in 1977 after battling a long illness, and Hotujac kept the business running himself, working long hours, six days a week. His hard work and dedication are no doubt what has kept Kennick Mold & Die going for all of these years. He also received assistance in the form of his son Bob, who started at Kennick while he was in high school. "After college, he returned to Kennick, where he still works today as vice president," Hotujac says. "It's been great having him here - a relief that he is carrying some of the burden. Plus, we get along pretty well."
At present Kennick has "five very dedicated employees," according to Hotujac. "In our 46 years, we have never had more than 10 employees at a time," he adds. "Some of our customers have been with us for more than 40 years." His original business philosophy still holds true today - "Be as honest as you can and do the best you can. Keep financial loans to a bare minimum, and buy good stocks cheap!"
Hotujac does make time to relax with his busy schedule. He recently cut down to a five-day workweek. He also likes to golf in the summer, bowl in the winter and travel with his wife throughout the year. "I enjoy staying active," he emphasizes, "and I'm not ready to slow down yet."