Sustainability, new products, potential draw 'Rising Stars'

By Jeannie Reall
Correspondent

Published: August 13, 2014 6:00 am ET
Updated: August 13, 2014 1:50 pm ET

Image By: Jessica Jordan A few of the Rising Stars for 2014.

Related to this story

Topics Sustainability, United States, Europe, Canada

Michael van der Jagt

For the first time, Plastics News is turning a spotlight on plastics professionals under the age of 40 who are on the path to becoming the industry's next leaders. Tuesday and today, we profile 10 of these "Rising Stars."

Other Rising Stars are highlighted in part 1, part 2 and part 4.

Michael van der Jagt

38, Parx Plastics BV

Title: CEO

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Twitter handle: @MvanderJagt

Birthplace: Rotterdam

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration, international management, 1998.

Career highlights: Founded Designcord BV, 2010. Founded Parx, 2012. Taking the first step in taking public the patented Parx technology to make plastic antibacterial in a biocompatible and non-migrating way, fall 2013. In 2014, Parx was named a Top Tech Startup (among three) in Europe by Neelie Kroes, a European Commission vice president, in the Tech All Stars competition.

Q: Tell us about your family.

Van der Jagt: Married, two sons, 3 and 5 years old.

Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?

Van der Jagt: In my Designcord venture we designed, developed and produced products from plastic. We developed an extension cord reel with the rewinding mechanism from inside a vacuum cleaner. But what interested me was making OEM products and helping with the development of new products, all using plastics. Initially, the Parx technology brought us a unique material to develop our own products. But the market for the technology was so large that we pivoted our focus to sell the material technology alone.

Q: What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

Van der Jagt: Almost getting our patent stolen in China. Protect your intellectual property!

Q: What is your current challenge at work?

Van der Jagt: We just launched the Parx technology publicly and we are already dealing with eight Fortune Global 500 companies and with four of the world’s largest medical-device makers.

Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?

Van der Jagt: We hold an emerging technology. We have a technology to make plastic antibacterial by making use of a trace element already found in the human body that is nontoxic, fully biocompatible and, best of all, does not migrate or leach out. We achieve a 99 percent antibacterial property without using chemicals, biocides, nanoparticles, heavy metals or any other toxic substances. The technology can be safely used for food-contact materials and medical implants.

Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?

Van der Jagt: In general I admire the spirit, energy and achievements of Richard Branson.

Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?

Van der Jagt: To have a presences in the U.S. and have our technology used by a prime Asian manufacturer.

Robert Cooney

Robert Cooney

34, Plastikos Inc.

Title: Manufacturing manager

Location: Erie, Pa.

Birthplace: Erie

Education: Bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering technology, Pennsylvania State University, Behrend College, 2001.

Career highlights: Manufacturing manager, Plastikos, 2007 to present; tooling engineer, Plastikos, 2002-07; mold designer engineer, Samtec Tool Division, 1998 to 2002.

Q: Tell us about your family.

Cooney: Wife (Keri) of 10 years and two children (Ely, 5 and Alex, 3)

Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?

Cooney: While at Penn State Erie, I completed three summer internships that progressed with my education each year. Combining these, I was intrigued while in school and early on in my career to become part of the next generation of plastics professionals.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?

Cooney: When I was given an opportunity in 2002 to lead the day-to-day manufacturing operation at Plastikos and eventually see the company recognized as a Plastics News Processor of the Year finalist in 2009 and the Processor of the Year in 2010. This recognition occurred as a result of several years of hard work, dedication and continual improvement by everyone on the Plastikos team.

Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?

Cooney: The industry is not getting the amount of youth that it deserves to hire for technical positions. I wish I could share with more people the level of passion and excitement that I come to work with each day and satisfaction that I get from my job.

Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?

Cooney: The industry is alive and well with a short-coming in technical people. Choose a company with a passion for continuous improvement that empowers employees at all levels to meet and exceed customer expectations.  

Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?

Cooney: Plastikos co-founder Timothy Katen. Over the years, I have carefully observedand learned more from him than I think he realizes about being successful in business and a man of integrity.

Steve Harmon

Steve Harmon

37, Continental Structural Plastics Inc.

Title: Director of engineering, program and product development

Location: Auburn Hills, Mich.

Birthplace: Detroit

Education: Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Michigan-Dearborn, 2006; bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Michigan, 2000.

Career highlights: Engineering director, Continental Structural Plastics, April 2011 to present; project engineer, Continental Structural Plastics, June 2006 to April 2011;engineer, Budd Co., 2000-06; engineer, AlliedSignal Plastics., 1996 to 2000.

Q: Tell us about your family.

Harmon: Married to Kristen. Daughters Natalie, 12, and Audrey, 10.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?

Harmon: As a fairly new engineer at Budd Plastics, I was a part of the development and launch of a flagship product, a composite pickup box. It allowed me to travel to different countries and work with engineers from many different disciplines and backgrounds. Iit was a very formative experience that accomplished so much, including opening a new facility in a country where the company had previously not operated, and also working successfully with an important new customer.

Q: What is your current challenge at work?

Harmon: The biggest challenge for me is keeping up with emerging technology, both in terms of materials — especially with the advent of lighter-weight options such as carbon fiber — but also in terms of molding and forming processes.

Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?

Harmon: As with nearly everyone involved in the automotive industry, the increasing desire for mass reduction is my primary interest, especially through the use of carbon fiber. Working in an industry that is constantly moving forward and searching for ways to bring these previously exotic materials reserved for supercars or the aerospace industry into the mainstream makes every day interesting.

Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?

Harmon: The sheer scope of how pervasive plastics are in our lives continually impresses me. Although focused on the automotive industry, I’ve had opportunity to see plastics applied to almost any manufactured item that can be thought of. From building products such as home entry doors that are indistinguishable from real wood, all the way to garbage dumpsters, the various ways plastics find their ways into our lives on a daily basis is always a surprise.

Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Harmon: “Go and see.” Laying your own eyes and your other senses on a problem brings great clarity that no email or phone call could ever replace.

Linda Zellner

Linda Zellner

35, Perstorp AB

Title: Project manager-bioplastics

Location: Perstorp, Sweden

Birthplace: Ystad, Sweden

Education: Master’s degree in chemical engineering-polymer science and particle technology with additional courses in economics and psychology, Lund University, 2003.

Career highlights: Electrolux Filter AB, marketing engineer, 2003-05; product and development engineer, 2005; laboratory manager, 2005-06. Electrolux AB, product marketing manager, original products, 2007-08; filtration and separation specialist, 2008-10; core technology manager, 2010-11. Perstorp AB, project manager-bioplastics, 2011 to present.

Q: Tell us about your family.

Zellner: My husband Niklas and I live in Helsingborg, Sweden, not far from the ocean. Both of us like sports and motorcycles, and are very active outdoor people. Travel is something we both appreciate.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?

Zellner: At this point I would say putting Perstorp on the map for bioplastics and the successful launch of Capa-brand degradability and compostability additives for bioplastics.

Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?

Zellner: The development of renewable raw materials, and the great potential to use our resources in a more efficient way to reduce waste, which is a major issue in our world.

Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?

Zellner: There is a lot of politics, misconceptions and assumptions that are influencing this industry, but this we can change!

Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Zellner: Stay true to yourself. If you work with projects or assignments you believe in, you will be successful in the end.

Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?

Zellner: Find something that interests you, get to know the area and get creative. Knowledge and networking are key factors in this business. If you like to be constantly challenged and learn new things, then this is the industry for you.

Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?

Zellner: I would work to drive change or development in areas close to my heart such as environmental issues, safety and health.

Q: What do you do to relax?

Zellner: My passion is Scuba diving and underwater photography. So when I want to relax and clear my mind I go diving.

Michael Cavaness

Michael Cavaness

32, Midwest Plastics Co. Inc.

Title: Plant manager

Location: Cherryvale, Kan.

Birthplace: Coffeyville, Kan.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in engineering technology from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan, 2004.

Career highlights: I worked as an engineer at Midwest Plastics until I was promoted to plant manager in 2009 at age 27, in the middle of a very tough recession. In 2010, I developed a new product line for the wire and cable industry. My spool design has since become the industry standard. As plant manager, I have doubled the sales of our company every year for the past two years and am currently on track to do so again in 2014.

Q: Tell us about your family.

Cavaness: I have been married to my wife, Selena, for 10 years now. I am a proud father to three beautiful daughters, ages 5, 3, and 11 months.

Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?

Cavaness: I worked for Midwest Plastics when I was in high school for a summer job. I fell in love with plastics processing and more so with the idea of taking an idea through all the steps to get it to market.

Q: What is your greatest achievement?

Cavaness: Completely changing and setting a new standard for quality and design for plastic spools for the wire and cable industry.

Q: What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?

Cavaness: Being too eager to grow and underestimating the importance of access to new capital. I have learned to forge strong relationships to allow access to capital and to allow others access to invest. I am a strong proponent of crowd funding.

Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?

Cavaness: Technologies that are increasing the efficiencies of aging machinery. Also,technology to allow our facility to be completely self-sufficient for our energy needs.

Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?

Cavaness: I am still amazed at the huge opportunities that exist for growth. Right now our focus is on packaging, but we also have products in development for the farming industry.

Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?

Cavaness: Make yourself as versatile as possible to set yourself apart from the others entering your field.


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Sustainability, new products, potential draw 'Rising Stars'

By Jeannie Reall
Correspondent

Published: August 13, 2014 6:00 am ET
Updated: August 13, 2014 1:50 pm ET

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