Shortly after Stephen Murrill bought Profile Plastics Inc. in 1987 from John Grundy, he joined the SPE Thermoforming Division's board — and he's still on the board today.
He was a member of a new crop of thermoformers that Grundy and other veteran board members recruited to get “younger blood” on the leadership group.
Murrill was honored as the 2011 Thermoformer of the Year during the Society of Plastics Engineers' annual Thermoforming Conference.
“It is a high honor indeed to be recognized by one's peers for one's life work,” he said in a speech Sept. 18 in Schaumburg. “It is a privilege we all enjoy, to work in an industry filled with so many fine people and companies.”
Murrill proceeded to name many of them. In his speech, he ticked off the names of all the other new board members back then. He called out names of industry veterans: “icons” like Bill McConnell, John Griep, Stan Rosen, Al Scovill, Jim Throne, Dick Fassett, Frank Palmer, John Kelly, Charlie Hovsepian and Bruce Davidson.
His point: The people who guide you along the way play a key role in success. “Basic vales of honesty, integrity and citizenship need to be fostered early in life,” Murrill said.
In fact, Murrill's speech may have set a Thermoforming Division record for name-dropping. He mentioned at least 15 fellow thermoforming enthusiasts, including several winners of Profile Plastics' Top Gun Award, listing their accomplishments at the company in Lake Bluff, Ill. One winner was Stephen Sweig, the 2002 Thermoformer of the Year.
“I am in trouble for not mentioning every Profile employee, but the take away I would leave you with is, that thermoforming is a team sport. It takes a team to have big success,” he said.
Twenty of the 60 employees at Profile when he bought the heavy-gauge thermoforming company are still working there today. In 2002, Profile bought its biggest competitor, Arrem Plastics Inc., and moved the operation to Lake Bluff. All the Arrem people who made the move are still at Profile, he said.
Murrill was exposed to plastics at an early age. His father, Randy Murrill, worked more than 35 years as a plastics engineer at DuPont Co. Stephen Murrill joked that his father taught him to say polymethylmethacrylate at a young age.
He was a freshman at Purdue University in 1967 when The Graduate came out, with its famous career advice to college-age Dustin Hoffman, “Plastics.”
“After seeing the movie, I called my sisters and told them that the movie was a spoof on my father, who we thought to be the ultimate plastics man,” Murrill said, then drew laughs with: “I managed not to bring up Mrs. Robinson!”
He earned a chemical engineering degree from Purdue, and an MBA from the University of Chicago. He went to work at Exxon Chemical Co. After two years, fate struck, and Exxon transferred him from the chemicals department in Houston to the fast-growing plastics department, with a sales territory based in Chicago.
Murrill left Exxon and went to work for his largest customer, Signode Corp. There, he met Jim Throne, a plastics consultant for Signode. Throne introduced him to Grundy, a thermoforming pioneer who had founded Profile Plastics in 1960.
Now, 24 years after Murrill bought Profile Plastics, he remains active in every part of the business as CEO and president. The SPE Thermoforming Division said the company runs 13 thermoforming machines and 15 computer numerically controlled routers and robots. According to the most recent Plastics News thermoformers ranking, Profile has estimated sales of $25 million.
Murrill chaired the 1992 Thermoforming Conference. He has been a speaker, moderator and program chairman for that event and many other SPE conferences.
He received the Thermoforming Division's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
Murrill credited industry pioneers for raising thermoforming from garage-shop status into a modern manufacturing sector. He closed his speech by paraphrasing a quote from Robert Burton: “Here today, we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.”