Many in the rubber industry talk of the fear of a generational gap. They see an older demographic in the sector's work force who are ready to retire with nobody to pass the experience on to.
Here at Rubber & Plastics News, I can understand that thinking to a degree. Miles Moore, our senior Washington reporter, just passed the 40-year mark at our publication; Publisher Dave Zielasko, whose father Ernie founded RPN in 1971, is about six years behind; and I am looking at celebrating my 30th anniversary here early next year.
But we also have some younger people on our editorial staff who are learning about the rubber industry at a very quick pace. News Editor Chris Sweeney, who coordinated our Under 40 special section in this issue, just passed four years at the publication in June; Online Content Editor Erin Pustay Beaven has been at RPN a bit over a year; and Reporter Kyle Brown joined us in early April.
Based on the 28 members in the Under 40 class, there is much reason for optimism. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the profiles of the honorees, and will share with you some of the tidbits here.
First, I found it interesting that among the two company owners on the list, both have "Ace" in the firm's name: Erick Sharp, president and owner of Ace Products and Consulting, and Brandon Robards, president of Ace Extrusion L.L.C. I advise against playing either in poker.
Robards, by the way, like a number of others in the class, joined the rubber industry because it's in his blood. His father Tim would take him to the office on Saturdays. "I would tour the plant with him, look at all the huge machines making products, and kind of fell in love with the smell of it," he said.
Ben Galizio, a section manager of raw materials at Bridgestone Americas, tells a similar tale. "It's in my DNA," he said. "My father, grandfather and great uncle spent most or all of their careers in the rubber industry," he said.
Others were drawn in by the enthusiasm of those at their perspective employers. This is illustrated by Felipe Escamilla, a rubber technologist at R.D. Abbott: "It was a relief to see veterans with more than 30 years of experience enjoying their work and looking forward to the future. There is no better selling point, in my mind, than enjoying what you do and who you work with day after day."
For Rachel Withers, a communications leader for Bridgestone Americas, it was the company that did the trick. Growing up in Nashville, Tenn., there was prestige associated with working at Bridgestone. After college, she moved around a bit to pursue her career, but when she and her husband thought about returning to Nashville, she applied for only one job: a communications slot at Bridgestone.
I also liked that our Under 40 Class members already are making their mark.
For example, Alexandra Krawicz, lead chemist of global R&D for the SI Group, is preparing to submit her first patent in the U.S. for a new resin technology she developed for the rubber. Casey Hedlund, a Lord Corp. senior scientist, was rightfully proud, with the release of the first compound she developed. And Asher Dean, a production floor lead at Hanna Rubber, is aiming to train and master in each of the nine different shops in his firm's warehouse; so far, he has completed seven of them.
And our honorees really seem to love their jobs.
Zack Beier, director of purchasing at Q Holding Co., likes the overall perspective his position gives him. "Being in purchasing, I work with suppliers of all shapes and sizes," he said, "from multi-billion-dollar global corporations to mom-and-pop shops down the street. That affords me the opportunity to visit these facilities, witness their processes and see how things are made."
They also had some good advice to pass onto those considering a career in the industry.
Jud Robinson, a raw materials buyer for Yokohama, says to take the chemical route. "The more you know about rubber, the chemicals and the mixing/manufacturing process, the quicker and farther you can go in your career," he said. "And most importantly, remember to treat people as you want to be treated."
Adam Barfoot, plant manager for the Bridgestone OTR plant in Aiken, S.C., said it's important to support others who may be struggling with a certain task. "Your willingness to assist—and often learn as well—not only furthers the business, but also grows and rounds out your knowledge base," he said.
But I'll leave you with my favorite response from any of the class, courtesy of Loudan Hammersmith, a regional sales manager with BKT Tires. How did he decide that a career in the rubber industry was for him? "That was ironically done by my mother. After my initial interview, I was not sure that I wanted to take a job in the industry. After having a conversation with her about my reservations, she told me to look outside at all the tires on the road. The conversation ended there and I took the job."
Nobody can argue with logic like that.