General manager, Polar-Tech Industries Inc.
Autumn Henderson, 31, is general manager for Polar-Tech Industries Inc. of Genoa, Ill. She grew up in Las Vegas, where she partook in many sports activities, including swimming and playing football. She was an avid reader and her academic life included being a member of her high school's debate team.
Her career began as an assistant at Quality Mechanical LLC, a Las Vegas engineering firm. She worked at Quality Mechanical while studying English at University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree. She worked her way up to project manager at Quality Mechanical but when the recession took hold, work at her company started to dry up so that by 2008-2009 only small projects were available at the company. Bored, she left Quality Mechanical and joined Polar-Tech in 2010.
Polar-Tech specializes in insulated, protective packaging, such as ice packs and expanded polystyrene foam containers. It also makes dry-ice making machines for customers who want to include dry ice in their packaging to keep contents cool. Henderson oversees day-to-day operations and keeps an eye out for ways to increase production efficiency at the company, which employs up to 125 depending on the season.
Q: What did you achieve at Polar-Tech?
Henderson: My first major assignment after a year at Polar-Tech was to supervise the setup of a satellite plant in Elysburg, Pa. I was assigned the task of construction, startup and production implementation so I hired a facility manager and a production manager and with this team, made a fully functioning manufacturing plant. The project was a success and I was promoted to general manager at Polar-Tech's head office in Illinois.
Q: What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Henderson: I really haven't had to face a big failure, yet. However, I face small failures all the time, from production downtime, to employees not being the right fit. Every little failure is a learning experience in what to do better, faster and smarter. You cannot know everything and do everything, but you can find the right talent to help you accomplish a lot in a little time. I look for genuine people who are not afraid of telling the truth, who are humble and dedicated.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Henderson: A current challenge of mine is staying on top of technology. There are so many avenues to pursue that I have to choose which technological advancement is the best fit and when to implement it.
One challenge is maintaining quality while trying to keep profit margins from going down. We implement quality standards such as EPS foam density. The marketplace has price pressures and we need to decide how to follow changes in the market while keeping up quality.
Another challenge is keeping in closer touch with customers. For that we are installing new software to improve customer relations, to track them better and to know them better.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Henderson: One of the most relevant emerging technologies is recyclability and biodegradability in plastics packaging. Every company we work with is looking for a solution that is cost-effective and earth-conscious. Those terms are not usually synonymous.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Henderson: How small the industry really is. Everyone knows everyone. At trade shows and other events I come across competitors and suppliers, most of whom know other people in the business.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Henderson: The best advice I was given was, “It is not what happens, but how you deal with it.” You can always count on something wrong. If you deal with it well and not overreact, then you can almost always turn it around. This advice has resonated with me for as long as I can remember. And it proves accurate in almost any circumstance.
Q: What associations do you belong to or actively participate in?
Henderson: The National Association of Professional Women. They provide networking opportunities and support, such as educational seminars. It can be challenging for a woman in the workplace. A woman as general manager can make some people uncomfortable.
I also partake in Future Business Leaders of America, an association I was involved in in high school as well. They mentor kids for the business world.
Q: If you were CEO of a company what would you do first?
Henderson: Learn the names of everyone and know what it is they do. Then learn the processes.
Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?
Henderson: My mentor is Shawn Havely, who was my boss for many years at Quality Mechanical. He taught me to be professional and to understand the politics driving people in the workplace and industry.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Henderson: My ultimate goal is to be a business owner in the plastics industry.