GUELPH, Ontario—Rick Valeriote has been part of the rubber industry for more than four decades.
The journey has taken him from working for his dad, to being a CEO before he was 30. From being fired to being a consultant for several years. From joining with two partners to form their own rubber molding firm, to selling that company to a European rubber firm, but remaining to run the business as chief operating officer.
That company is Poly-Nova Technologies L.P. in Guelph, owned since 2011 by the Starlim/Sterner Group of Austria. During the time since that acquisition, Valeriote has led Poly-Nova's staff of 150 on a path of transformation where sales have roughly doubled and most of the molding operations—located in two facilities—are either fully or partially automated.
And he has done that all while sticking to the core values and principles instilled into him by his father and shared by most of the people he has worked with, including Poly-Nova's current owners.
For these qualities and the success that he has helped Poly-Nova accomplish, Valeriote has been named Rubber & Plastics News 2017 Rubber Industry Executive of the Year, the first leader of a Canadian company to receive the honor.
"Bricks, mortar, machines. Everybody can do that," Valeriote said in an interview at the firm's headquarters. "But people are a different story. These people are running the place on a day-to-day basis. I have a simple management approach. I manage results, not activities. If the results are what they are supposed to be, then I'm not managing anybody's activities, because these young men and women who are making it happen are self-motivated. They don't need me to be watching over their shoulder."
Rubber roots run deep
As early as age 14, Valeriote would help out cleaning molds at Silcofab, the former molding company started in Guelph by his father, Joe Valeriote. Of course as a teenager, he didn't always want to get out of bed and accompany his father into the facility.
"I remember him getting me out of bed and saying, 'I'm giving you a job. You need to come in,' " Rick Valeriote recalls. "I was not at all happy to be there, as sleeping was more important."
But that changed over time. In high school, Rick Valeriote was convinced he wanted to be a lawyer. But as much as he thought he would enjoy that career, he decided he would rather join the family business. "I worked there in the summer," he said. "I was always allowed to be involved in some way or another in the production process. I learned to run presses, the extruders, the mixing equipment. And the minute you have that experience, it gets in your blood."
There was no pressure from his father to join Silcofab. It was all Rick's idea. Of course, Joe Valeriote did have one decree for his son. "His exact line was, 'No degree, no job,' " Rick said.
Now Rick didn't want to just copy what his father was doing. He wanted to bring something else to the table. As engineering seemed a logical choice, he did seek advice from Joe Valeriote on which area to study. "He said, 'I need a chemist. A chemical engineer would be somebody I would be happy to hire.' "