Steve Rotman began his career as an apprentice at a Michigan company, General Die, in January 1974, and noticed that the owners of mold shops in his area were moldmakers. He made it a goal to have his own mold shop by the time he was 30. He and his wife moved to Mooresville, NC in June of 1985 and opened the doors of Ameritech. He was 29.
U.S. moldmakers need to transition from "makers" to "manufacturers" and fill the shoes of retiring journeymen.
Steve Rotman, who recently began a two-year term as president of the American Mold Builders Assn. (AMBA) and also is president of Ameritech Die & Mold Inc. (Mooresville, NC) and Ameritech Die & Mold South (Ormond Beach, FL), shares the concerns of his fellow moldmakers but is excited about moldmaking and its future in the U.S.
MPW: With 34 years in the industry, you’ve seen big changes. What are the biggest changes moldmakers face today?
Rotman: The shift of engineering from our OEM customers onto the mold shop’s shoulders. Transitioning from being mold ‘makers’ to mold manufacturers without losing the quality and innovation that the moldmaking era afforded us. Mold shops originally started with the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking that empowered us to launch out on our own and create our reputations, our history.
MPW: Many shops have closed since 2001, some small but many of them large, seemingly successful companies. What is the secret to staying in business through difficult times?
Rotman: I believe it is the attention to details, which includes meeting the needs of customers. It is watching, listening, and understanding what their problems are. Successful companies are creating solutions. It is creating strong relationships with good customers that allows us, as a mold shop, to showcase why they should do business with us rather than all the other companies out there trying to woo them away. It is learning the customer’s business, and becoming an asset to that business. That is a value that can’t be found off the shelf or at other mold shops.
MPW: You’ve been successful in North Carolina and recently opened another facility in Florida at a time when many shops were struggling. What’s the key to running a successful, expanding operation?
Rotman: Bringing solid value to the customer. Helping both our divisions understand what the customer needs to compete, and empowering Ameritech’s employees to be able to achieve the desired solutions for our customers. Reacting to our customers’ needs in a way that shows them how much we truly value the relationship. It’s creating a culture of optimism and innovation within our companies, allowing the individuals to be a part of the changes.
Our goal is to be a leader within the industry, and always looking forward, not worrying about who might be chasing us. We are aware of our competition, and what they might be doing, but we believe we have an excellent business model and are very committed to making that work for us.
MPW: Where will new employees come from as older moldmakers retire?
Rotman: Apprenticeship programs have to be the very heart of any successful mold company. I’ve seen way too many shop owners give up and allow a huge gap to develop between the journeymen moldmakers and new people who should have been working their way into positions of greater responsibility, ready to step into the shoes of those retiring. The path is a work in progress and any amount of time that lapses with a training program is a risk for the company’s future. Unfortunately, with society’s outlook on manufacturing and the possible future of those jobs, it takes a lot more effort to showcase the positives of the trade to today’s students.
MPW: You are very active in an educational program to recruit young people for jobs with Ameritech. Where is today’s educational system missing the boat with regard to helping young people find alternatives to college?
Rotman: As always, we as a society have over-reacted to trends and have hurt ourselves immensely. It takes early involvement with students at the high school level. Our shops are too specialized. The equipment and software required to train employees for us is too expensive for most trade schools to afford. I believe the old-fashioned idea of a partnership between a student, a community college, and a mold company is the answer to this problem.
We have to go into the high schools and recruit, and educate the students about the opportunities that are available to them in our industry. If you tie that to a two-year degree through the community college, the parents begin to get on board. We have found that a certain amount of time needs to be spent with the student prospects before actually signing them up for the apprenticeship program. This has helped to keep turnover and misunderstandings of the actual program and the job to a minimum. It is an investment by the company, for sure.
MPW: The AMBA promotes “fair” trade, not just “free” trade. What must the U.S. government do to help U.S. manufacturers?
Rotman: The existing free trade agreements need to be reviewed and revised so that free trade becomes fair trade. It has to be a two-way street. To shore up the remnant of manufacturing that is left here, there need to be aggressive tax incentives for investments in technology and equipment; incentives to help implement costly apprenticeship programs to gain workers back into the trades, and incentives to companies that work with other U.S. companies to keep the country’s manufacturing structure stable.
Our future generations will pay a huge price if something isn’t done to correct the damage done to the U.S. economy by offshoring.
MPW: What are your plans as AMBA president to help strengthen the organization, and moldmaking in general?
Rotman: My goal as AMBA President is to give every mold shop in America the opportunity to know the AMBA, know the benefits the organization offers and encourage them to become a member. I also want the AMBA to participate with other like-minded trade associations with compatible goals to stand and fight for fair trade in Washington, DC. We need to be strong in sticking to who we are as a trade association, and what we stand for, not compromising that in any way. Standing alone, as sole companies, we are but a small voice, with little hope of ever being heard or noticed. Within the AMBA, we suddenly become a force of like-minded business people, and we have the opportunity to be heard and share our passion and desire to be independent business entrepreneurs.
We will continue to promote strong apprenticeship programs among our member companies to keep the flow of workers moving up the ladder of knowledge and experience. We’ll continue to provide seminars and webinars to educate our membership and help them stay on the cutting edge of technology. The current and future members need to take a chance and try out our programs, to see the values that they gain only through active participation.