MAPLE PLAIN, Minn.—John Way said he's always been "kind of a numbers person," which led him to his current career and role as chief financial officer of Proto Labs Inc.
Way graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., with a bachelor's degree in accounting. Following graduation, he had a difficult choice deciding between the tax vs. audit route, so he worked at a local firm where he could do both.
"That really helped just accelerate my knowledge and thought process behind it because I got to start with kind of the beginning of the audit and work my way down the balance sheet, from cash all the way through equity and then prepare the financial statements and do the tax returns," Way said. "I got to see the full picture pretty quickly right out of college; I think it was a big benefit for me."
He joined PricewaterhouseCoopers for about six years. Way said his time at PwC was "a very good learning experience just because I got to see so many different businesses and how they operated and what worked well and areas for improvement, and I got to compare kind of the business processes of so many entities and companies that really helped me understand and build how I thought things should be done based on that experience."
Way then moved to UnitedHealth Group for 10 years, then "a short stint with a couple private equity-owned firms" before landing at Proto Labs.
"While I was working at Pricewaterhouse, I was working with technology companies, so medical device and some software," he said. "Proto Labs has kind of a unique balance of both the manufacturing as well as the software component of it, so the great thing about finance is that it's pretty transferable from industry to industry. … Proto Labs is such a unique business model with very strong financial performance but then with a ton of growth opportunity as well. It was just a very appealing opportunity."
Founded in 1999 and based in Maple Plain, Proto Labs is a manufacturer that offers 3D printing, CNC printing, sheet metal fabrication and injection molding services.
Sarah Wheeler, Padilla senior account executive, nominated Way for Plastics News' CFO of the Year. Plastics News is a sister publication of Rubber & Plastics News.
"Under John's leadership, Proto Labs has grown in revenue from $210 million in 2014 to $345 million in 2017. The growth has continued in 2018, with year-to-date revenue up 34 percent over the prior year," Wheeler said in the submission.
Way said Proto Labs' stock performance has been strong: Stock prices doubled in 2017 and have been up 20 percent in 2018.
Proto Labs completed three acquisitions in the past four years. The company acquired Rapid Manufacturing in November 2017, which added sheet metal to its portfolio and expanded CNC machining capabilities. It acquired Alphaform A.G. at the end of 2015 and FineLine Prototyping in 2014.
Following the Rapid Manufacturing acquisition last year, Way said Proto Labs is focused on integrating that company's capabilities into the business for the year ahead.
"As we go into 2019, it really is turning that service on to our broader base of customers, and I think that continuing to look at it from the customer perspective and what are the services that we can provide to our customers and how we can serve them differently. I think that's kind of the big approach that we're continuing to focus on and continue to focus our R&D on expanding our services to provide those to our customers," Way said.
Born and raised on a dairy farm in the small farming community of Kenyon, Minn., Way now lives in Chanhassen, Minn., with his wife, Sarah, and daughters Taylor, 19; Regan, 13; and Morgan, 8.
Way said his daughters are active in sports, and he used to serve as a volunteer youth soccer coach. He has also been involved with Many Hands Many Meals, a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization devoted to fighting world hunger issues, for the last 10 years.
The most influential person in Way's life has been his mother, a single parent who ran the dairy farm, raised five boys and did "everything it took to keep the house running."
"As I look back at it," he said, "my work ethic, my values, my drive [and] my desire to succeed all started with my admiration of my mother and wanting to make her proud."