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Plastic Products' longtime CEO dies leaving a legacy of success

Marlene Smith, CEO of Plastic Products Co. (Lindstrom, MN), lost her battle with Alzheimer's disease last week at age 79. Smith spent most of her adult life working at Plastic Products, going to work for the company in 1962 as a bookkeeper. In 1973, she married the company's owner, Willard Smith. Two years later he died of colon cancer, and, in 1975, Smith found herself in the role of CEO.

That event forced Marlene Smith into a man's world of plastics manufacturing, something that frightened her because of the huge responsibilities that came with running a company with many employees. Smith, however, grabbed the bull by the horns and began to turn around the struggling injection molding firm, which, at the time, had $1 million in annual sales.

One of the major problems was that Plastic Products had most of its eggs in one basket: Its primary customer, which represented 90% of the company's business, was 3M. Not a bad customer to have, but Smith knew that diversification was going to be key if the company was to succeed long term. Smith hired outside sales representatives to develop new business in a variety of markets and in locations close to customers' facilities.

Over the next four decades, Smith built the company to the $150 million in annual sales it has today. In addition to the company's headquarters facility in Lindstrom (132,883 square feet and 45 presses ranging from 25 to 500 tons), the company has seven other injection molding plants and one facility, Smith Metal Products, specializing in metal injection molding and ceramic injection molding. Injection molding plants are located in Greenville, KY (76,500 square feet, 21 70 to 900 ton presses); Lebanon, KY (72,000 square feet, 36 presses with 25 to 725 tons clamp force); Princeton, MN (154,312 square feet with 28 presses ranging from 89 to 1,000 tons); West Branch, IA (114,000 square feet, 39 presses ranging from 165 to 1,000 tons); Greenfield, TN (50,000 square feet, 23 presses from 80 to 600 tons); Moline, IL (120,000 square feet, 33 70 to 1,000 ton presses); and Seneca, SC, established last year.

In November 2011, Smith Metal Products announced groundbreaking in Center City, MN, on a new 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Total investment for that facility, including new debinding and sintering equipment, all-electric molding machines and automation equipment, was $6.5 million.

Plastic Products serves a wide range of markets including consumer goods, transportation/automotive, appliance, building & construction, electronics, recreational and industrial, producing components ranging from a single gram to 16 pounds. The company currently employs a total of 900 employees throughout the company. In 2013, Plastic Products became 100% employee owned through an ESOP plan. 

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