Humble Beginnings

MoldMaking Technology's 2003 and 2004 Leadtime Leaders reflect on the circumstances that led them down the moldmaking path.


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Each month the winners of MoldMaking Technology magazine's Leadtime Leader Award Competition assemble in this regular column to discuss matters relevant to the industry. The award—designed to recognize outstanding U.S. moldmaking shops and their ability to succeed in today's global mold market—highlights a number of shops that showed outstanding performance in the following areas: leadtime, current and projected sales growth, innovation in the moldmaking process as well as innovation in the business side of moldmaking, technology, industry involvement and customer service.

This month, our Leadtime experts reminisce about how they got their start in the industry—whether following in a father's footsteps or taking advantages of the numerous opportunities moldmaking offered them. 

Steve Johanns, managing director, business development, Advance Tool, Inc. (Blaine, MN)
Coming from the large corporate environment of Eaton, I was really surprised at how universal the issues, opportunities and challenges facing moldmakers were with large multinational manufacturing companies. It wasn't an industry I expected to come into, but couldn't help but be drawn in by the opportunity that Advance Tool was sitting on as an engineering-driven company with top-notch customers-in an industry that was poised to have few winners and a lot of losers. I viewed then and continue to view ATI as one of those few winners. I also love being in an industry that is really at the heart of manufacturing and products going to market. We get to see and impact the quality and success of our customer's programs daily. I take great pride in being involved with a company that is viewed as a strategic partner to some of the best and most successful companies in the world.

The challenges of globalization, operational efficiencies, finding new customers and delivering on our promise everyday will always be there. But then, that's what makes getting up in the morning fun!

Jason Jepsen, Tech Centre manager, Eimo Americas (Vicksburg, MI)
I actually got into the industry after receiving my degree in plastics engineering. When I graduated from college, the industry was flourishing and my program's curriculum had bragged of 100 percent job placement for graduating seniors for many consecutive years. However, I'm not sure if this is still the case. I decided to pursue a career in this industry because of the seemingly endless opportunities that were available at that time.

Rich Burman, president, Graphic Tool Corp. (Itasca, IL)
When I was in high school, I had a friend whose father was a moldmaker. They always had a new car, lived in a nice house and seemed to have a good life. Since my parents didn't have a lot of money, I decided not to go to college. My friend's father recommended that I serve an apprenticeship. I went to A-1 Tool Corp., where I spent the next 17 years until I went into business for myself.

Mike Richard, co-owner, M&M Tool & Mold, Inc. (Green Bay, WI)
My father was a machinist by trade and along with his hands-on mechanical aptitude, was leading me toward some type of manufacturing career. I knew I did not want to machine part after part of the same thing. I grew up in the tool and die hotbed of Wisconsin-the Germantown/suburban Milwaukee area; and my high school turned me on to Moraine Park Technical College, which was well known nationwide in the 80s for its tool and die program. As we all know, in the 80s moldmaking was beginning to really take off and moldmakers/apprentices were in very high demand. I liked the fact that in most cases you are working on a different project on a regular basis. It was a hands-on trade that you really had to use your head, and at the end of the day you had a tangible item you worked on. The technological setting was also an attraction, as well as the potential income.

Gene Bruce, co-owner, Summit Molds, Inc. (Post Falls, ID)
We had a recruiter from Caco-Pacific present a slide show on what was involved in moldmaking to our college machinist class. This was in my second year just before graduating from the program. One of the first slides was a picture of the parking lot. In this parking lot were some very nice cars, trucks and a couple of campers with boats. Basically, the recruiter said if you can cut it you could have a very nice lifestyle. For a young kid who grew up in a middle class family it looked like the perfect occupation. I've been in it ever since.

Charles Carey, senior vice president, Wentworth Mold Group (Hamilton, ON)
Everywhere you look-parts, components, final products, etc.-a moldmaker has some involvement with in some way, shape or form. There still is no better feeling than having a small group of wide-eyed children visit our facilities in Vandalia, Ohio or Hamilton, Ontario and see firsthand something being cut in steel that will soon be seen on the shelf. "Hey I know that bottle."

That's the soft side. Ultimately, this industry is global and opportunity knocks worldwide-affording a certain amount of job security for all of our employees, even during these trying times. Our Canadian operation has won a number of Export awards during a challenging period where local industry would be deemed in the midst of a recession. This does not mean we are recession-proof. The global market swings and allows us to take advantage of this. Thinking global and acting local has forced us to expand geographically to support our customers' needs. Moldmaking is a common language. There are other industries that might not be as universal and would not afford this luxury.

Ultimately, was this the reason I pursued this career? Possibly not; but it is a byproduct. As a toolmaker there is no better feeling of accomplishment than looking at the finished product after QC approval with pride and ownership to verify visible proof of a job well done. This is what we do!