New CEO Stiles keeping R&D/Leverage on course

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R&D/Leverage Stiles

R&D/Leverage remains a company that's hard to describe in just a sentence. It's a mold maker, yes, but also a company that's known for its industrial design and brand development chops.

The Lee's Summit, Mo., company also has just about every available rapid prototyping technology in-house. And it has a global reach, with plants in both the United States and England.

New CEO Mike Stiles says all those things will continue now that he's in charge. In fact, he expects the company to continue to move ahead on the path it started in 2008, when toolmaker R&D added structural brand development firm Leverage and set about adding value-added services to make it a key partner with its customers.

"As far as the direction of the company, we're going to work hard to push our combination of what I call creative and technical offerings that we've had out in the market for a while," Stiles said in a telephone interview on his way to the Interpack trade show in Düsseldorf, Germany.

"We're unique. We're not just a mold making company. We don't just operate in one facet of the industry," he said. The company's menu of services for brand development includes research such as retail audits that include trend and color study, ethnographic research, consumer focus groups, concept development, validation, and implementation.

Mold making capabilities include blow and injection tooling, testing, validation and training. The company also handles liquid silicone rubber tooling and molding.

"We're not just dabblers in any of those markets, we're a force, we're a recognized leader," Stiles said.

This isn't the first time that Stiles has been in charge at a plastics tooling business. As a young man, in 1984, he opened a blow mold tooling company in Lee's Summit that he owned until 1992, and he left to join R&D in 2000. Stiles said he's always kept that entrepreneur's mindset.

"I always treated every job as I did when I was on my own. It was my own little business inside of a business. And that's been very successful," he said. Stiles replaces Todd Riley, who is now chief operating officer at Big 3 Precision Products Inc.

Stiles says R&D will continue to invest in technology. R&D frequently partners with major hot runner suppliers, and the company just added a 500-ton Toyo injection press to work on high-cavitation molds for the medical market.

Geographically, the company is taking steps to expand its footprint in Latin America. R&D is preparing to announce the hiring of a bilingual (Portuguese and English) person who will work with R&D's global packaging customers south of the border, starting in Brazil.

Expanding geographically makes sense to Stiles, who moved to the CEO role from director of sales, where he has experience in the global market, dealing with different cultures.

One of his first key moves as CEO was to hire his own replacement. He went global on the decision, promoting Duncan Hardy to director of sales. Hardy has been at R&D since 1999, starting at the company's plant in Sutton-in-Ashfield, England.

"Duncan has experience in every facet of tooling that we do," Stiles said. "He has great rapport with customers, and he's well-respected inside the company."

Founders Ivan and Ardith Drienik started R&D Tool & Engineering Co. in 1976. Ivan died in 2007, so Ardith is the sole owner. Stiles says she is "there and active nearly every day."

R&D/Leverage ranked 19th in Plastics News' most recent listing of mold, tooling and die makers with related sales estimated at $40 million. Stiles said the company has 245 employees in Missouri and 80 in England.

In September, the company will host an open house to show off its diverse capabilities. The theme this year is Breaking Down the Silos in Plastic Packaging, featuring keynote speaker, Gerry O'Brion, a marketing expert and author. Go to www.rdleverage.com/open-house.html for information about the event.