Mary Cay Westphal
President and owner, Shamrock Plastics Inc.
Mary Cay Westphal, 83, is president and owner of Shamrock Plastics Inc., a thermoformer in Peoria, Ill. She was raised on a farm in Pontiac, Ill. An only child, she spent much of her time on farm chores and in her spare time engaged in common childhood and teenage pursuits.
She graduated with a bachelor's degree in social science from St. Mary's College in South Bend, Ind., and continued her education with leadership development courses, more college classes, and various seminars and workshops.
Westphal's first job out of college was writer for a local television station. She then raised a family and volunteered with local organizations, activities that kept her too busy to pursue a work career. A divorce settlement landed her the ownership of Shamrock Plastics in 1987 and the company can boast it is a 100 percent woman-owned business.
The company, established in 1968, employs about 20 and does both pressure forming and vacuum forming for various industrial customers. The firm claims on-time delivery for 98 percent or more of its shipments and a quality rating of under 50 parts per million defects.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Westphal: I didn't seek a plastics job. In 1987, a divorce settlement left me with Shamrock Plastics, a company very financially stressed and about to go bankrupt. I had never worked in the company, but with the help of an experienced staff I gradually brought it back to profitability. Twenty nine years ago women were not accepted or respected in manufacturing.
Q: What was your greatest achievement?
Westphal: Leading the company in attaining platinum level supplier certification from Caterpillar Tractor Co. in 2013 and 2014. There are only 67 Caterpillar platinum suppliers in the world. Shamrock Plastics thermoforms cab interior and other components for Caterpillar heavy equipment.
Q: What are some of your career highlights?
Westphal: Heading Shamrock Plastics as it maintained its status as a Caterpillar certified supplier for 29 consecutive years and as it won platinum certification in 2013 and 2014.
Another highlight was the company's ISO certification in 2004. Other achievements were Shamrock Plastics being named Business of the Year in 1996 by the Peoria Chamber of Commerce and my receiving an Alumnae Achievement Award from St. Mary's College.
A less formal but important accomplishment was my personally promoting acceptance of women in manufacturing. This takes time and continuously working at it. In my 30 years of promoting acceptance, I have seen attitudes become more positive, but only gradually.
Q: What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Westphal: I did not recognize the need for a diverse range of customers. One main customer was dominant for 28 years. Today that customer has reduced its orders. Now I must hire an outside salesperson to diversify sales, and have just begun this exercise.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Westphal: Two things: looking for an outside salesperson and the current slowdown in orders from a major customer due to the state of the economy.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Westphal: 3-D printing and robotics. I'm interested in adopting robotics to help our manufacturing.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Westphal: Be tough and strong, but always act and look like a lady.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Westphal: It's a challenging, exciting and rewarding opportunity to continue to advance the role of women in manufacturing.
Q: What associations do you belong to or actively participate in?
Westphal: Career-related associations I belong to are the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center and the National Association of Women Business Owners.
I also belong to several community organizations, including Kiwanis, Salvation Army, OSF Hospital Community Clinic Board of Directors, St.Vincent de Paul Church and Legatus, an organization for Catholic CEOs.
Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?
Westphal: Prominent influences include members of the Leadership Development Council, contemporaries in the National Association of Women Business Owners, and former members of the previous Thermoforming Institute of the Society of the Plastics Industry, of which I was an active member. I also look up to my successful children!
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Westphal: At my age, retirement!
Q: What do you do to relax?
Westphal: I take grandmother trips to visit my adult grandchildren in six different states. I'm a sports spectator, mainly basketball and tennis. I play bridge and I like to travel.