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Women in a man’s world; female plastics executives thrive

When one woman-owned plastic molding company buys another woman-owned plastics processing company, you've got . . . well, the makings of an interesting story. Susan Parent had no intentions of ever getting into the manufacturing arena, much less plastics, but as she soon discovered, often our paths take some interesting detours. Today, she's into the plastics processing business in a big way. The company she started nearly two decades ago in Torrington, CT, recently expanded into the Midwest with the purchase of C-K Plastics Inc. in St. Louis, MO, also a woman-owned company. 

When one woman-owned plastic molding company buys another woman-owned plastics processing company, you've got . . . well, the makings of an interesting story. Susan Parent had no intentions of ever getting into the manufacturing arena, much less plastics, but as she soon discovered, often our paths take some interesting detours. Today, she's into the plastics processing business in a big way. The company she started nearly two decades ago in Torrington, CT, recently expanded into the Midwest with the purchase of C-K Plastics Inc. in St. Louis, MO, also a woman-owned company. 

Parent, president and CEO of Technical Industries Inc. in Torrington, CT, began the company with a business partner in 1994. The company's original business model was to give people the opportunity to go into business for themselves by providing the "back-end manufacturing" for them, which included injection molding.

With her background in marketing, managerial skills and her previous position as a controller in a large insurance company and an accountant by trade, and her partner's background in engineering, she felt they had the right combination to make it work. They identified a client who needed their manufacturing services but eventually he wanted to own his own business, and pulled out of Technical Industries. Parent and her partner stayed on and made the decision to keep the business as a custom injection molding facility because she found the industry rather addictive.

"I actually came to love the industry so much, which was strange since I'd never been in manufacturing," she said in an interview with PlasticsToday. "I strategically made the decision to invest in this company and grow the business. The employees are a big part of this decision, because I wanted them to have a good place to work and feel secure in their jobs."

Parent's decision paid off.  She got the certifications the company needed including ISO 9001:2008 and ITAR certs, to demonstrate that she was dedicated to doing what she promised. Technical Industries is also certified as a Woman's Business Enterprise. Through a lot of hard work and relationship building, Parent grew the company to just over $5 million in sales today, serving the aerospace and defense, electronics, and medical and dental markets. The company operates 32 presses ranging in size from 7.5 tons to 240 tons.

A perfect fit

Dianne Chitwood, owner of C-K Plastics, also owned a distribution business and was a customer of Parent's. The two women got to know each other quite well through their business relationship. C-K Plastics has injection presses ranging from 5 tons to 610 tons, and also has extrusion and blowmolding capabilities. 

"What made us start looking for another plastics business was that we were getting attention from venture capital people, so we started looking at where we wanted to be in five years," Parent explained.  "I looked for another business that would complements ours - C-K also does blowmolding and extrusion - and provide us with an opportunity to strategically serve our customers in that region of the country and provide them with blowmolding and extrusion capabilities that they required."

Parent made the decision pretty rapidly. In July she started looking around and after talking to Chitwood and the broker, she discovered they had same idea Parent did: Strategically invest in the company to continue to serve C-K's customers and employees, while at the same time giving Technical Industries a presence in the Midwest.

Ecclectic past creates successful present

The secret of Parent's success in the plastics business, she believes, is her experience in various other enterprises she's been involved in over her career, which include starting up an art gallery, an indoor soccer rink and a company which did testing for the presence of lead in homes. "This gave me a broad perspective of all types of markets and products, and also gave me an understanding of the marketing skills a person needs to go after different markets, which has been beneficial in the custom molding business."

She's quite aware that she's one of few women in a man's world of plastics. When asked if her management style is different because she's a woman, Parent quickly said "Yes!

"My management style is different because I'm a woman," she added.  "When I compare and contrast my style to the male supervisors at the plant, I believe I tend to take the softer approach to people challenges. I work with people to try and get the best out of them if I can.  I don't use the hammer approach." 

While her company's business model has changed over the years, Parent believes she is still in the business of giving people opportunities to succeed. "One of the reasons we went into starting this small business was to give people an opportunity to grow in areas where they never knew they could. I think we're still doing that as we grow Technical Industries and C-K Plastics so employees have continuity of employment and become the best they can be."

Nothing should hold anyone back, Parent stated. "One thing I'd advocate for any woman wanting to get into a man's world is believe in yourself. If they have the self-confidence to do it - they can do it!"

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