Lola Carere's job history proves that relationships count in the close-knit world of thermoforming, especially the cut-sheet custom variety.
Carere was named the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award on Sept. 25 at the 2005 Thermoforming Conference. Some tears flowed, but she was among friends.
A longtime board of directors member for the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoforming Division, Carere was in constant motion in Milwaukee, checking on the registration table, monitoring the presentations and walking the show floor.
Her thermoforming career has been spent working in the Southeast. All but one of her thermoforming employers have been small companies.
Her first thermoforming job came in 1984, when she became purchasing manager for Allied Plastics Inc. of Tucker, Ga. She spent a decade at Allied, getting promoted to production control manager and then becoming regional sales manager.
>From 1994-99, Carere was sales coordinator for Multiplastics Inc. in Mount Pleasant, S.C. Then she moved to a big company, becoming southeast account manager for St. Paul, Minn.-based TPI, a unit of Wilbert Inc.
She worked at TPI from 1999-2002, then became sales manager of Multiplastics Georgia Inc. in Suwanee, Ga., a sister company of Multiplastics.
The whole time, she kept in touch with one of her largest accounts, Gould LLC, a Duluth, Ga.-based maker of materials-handling bins and office products like literature display racks.
``First, they were just buying the products and when they were doing that, I was at Allied Plastics and they were my customer. And I moved to Multiplastics because they moved their business there,'' Carere said.
In the late 1990s, Gould decided to start thermoforming its own parts. Then in January of this year, Gould sold its line of display racks to Safco Products Co., changed its name to ThermoPro Inc. and reinvented itself from captive to a custom thermoformer.
Guess who they called to handle sales? Carere, who became a ThermoPro account executive.
In thermoforming, everybody knows everybody, Carere explained. ``I would say the average thermoformer probably does somewhere between $5 [million] and $10 million a year. There are a lot of family businesses,'' she said.
Carere's dedication to the Thermoforming Division is a big reason she won the Lifetime Achievement Award. She joined SPE in 1987 and quickly volunteered to help out at the Southern Section, covering Georgia, Alabama and part of South Carolina. She has served on the Thermoforming Division's board of directors since 1994.
The 2005 conference, held Sept. 24-27 in Milwaukee, brought back intense memories for Carere and other thermoformers. The last time the SPE Thermoforming Division held its conference in Milwaukee was Sept. 15-18 of 2001 - just a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On Sept. 11, Carere, who was chairwoman of the Thermoforming Division, was headed to the Atlanta airport with conference coordinator Gwen Mathis.
``We kept trying to get flights out,'' Carere said. ``You know, we felt like we needed to be here in Milwaukee. So we actually rented a car and drove to Milwaukee.''
Heads spinning with emotion at the tragedy, they headed north. Should the 2001 conference be canceled?
``We didn't know what to think, but we needed to get there and make a decision, because people had already shipped machinery,'' Carere said. ``It was crazy.''
A good number of other board members made it to Milwaukee, too.
``It was hard, but the executive committee and the conference chair, we all sat around the table and took a vote on whether we should have it or not.''
They decided to go ahead - and ended up with a respectable attendance of about 750. Attendees got a free pass to the following year's conference, and division leaders issued credits to sponsors. They donated proceeds to the American Red Cross.
``We caught a lot of grief for having it, but a lot of people supported us, too,'' Carere said.