Melanie Walker Hart
CEO and president, Tsuchiya Group North America
Melanie Walker Hart, 56, is CEO and president of Tsuchiya Group North America/Tasus Corp. in Bloomington, Ind. She received a bachelor's degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University in 1987.
Hart says the first thing she did when she was named CEO was hire “people with great character, strong work ethic and proven experience or the ability to learn quickly.”
Q: What are some of your career highlights?
Hart: Becoming the first female president of a Japanese-owned North American manufacturing company at the age of 34. The company has grown from a single Tasus manufacturing facility with only five employees to Tsuchiya Group North America, consisting of five locations and over 500 employees.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Hart: Mobil Oil, chemical division. It was my first position after graduating from Cornell University. My initial interest was in human resources management. I found the daily challenges of being a part of the leadership in manufacturing unexpectedly interesting. While I was in this position, plastics manufactured goods were under tremendous scrutiny for environmental impact, which created another level of interest in how to work through the public image of plastics.
Q: What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Hart: Launching new products/processes without being fully vested. The investment became a loss and we sold off the equipment. When launching new products or processes you must be fully vested. You cannot dabble in something; either fully commit or do not do it.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Hart: Balancing the capacity needs from our customers' demand with the long-term investment needed to meet that capacity. We are focused on smart investments, where we can meet customer demand, while not overinvesting. It is an interesting balancing act.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Hart: 3-D printing and other possibilities for additive manufacturing and the elimination of subtractive manufacturing.
Also, the electric vehicle market — this market is already providing us unique and challenging opportunities.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Hart: Injection molding — while equipment and machinery continue to advance, (more precise, better technology, i.e. hybrid and electric, better information) the basic process itself has changed little over the many decades it's been in existence.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Hart: 1. Get the right people on the bus. Get the wrong people off the bus.
2. Hire for character first, second for ability.
3. Pause before responding.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Hart: Consider entering into primarily the manufacturing of high-value-added products that are more complex and require assembly to increase margins and probability for successful long-term customer relationships.
Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?
Hart: Yasuyuki Ohara, chairman and CEO, and Koichi Ohara, president and chief operating officer of Tsuchiya Co. Ltd. They always taught me to exercise long-term thinking, as short-term thinking only provides short-term gains. They also taught that it is far better to have employees who perform well because of the person you are and their desire to make the company a success, rather than employees where performance has to be demanded. Employees will only do this if the leader is thoughtful, respectful, highly communicative, humble and thankful to be in the position they're in.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Hart: This one. I have no plans of leaving or taking any other job in the future.