MICHAEL STARK, 31
Wittmann Battenfeld Inc.
Title: Divisional manager, material handling and auxiliaries
Location: Torrington, Conn.
Birthplace: South Haven, Mich.
Social media: LinkedIn, Twitter @PlasticStark
Education: Associate's degree in mechanical engineering technology from State University of New York at Morrisville, bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering technology from Rochester Institute of Technology, master's degree from Post University with a concentration in leadership.
Career highlights: Divisional manager at Wittmann Battenfeld, 2010-present; master scheduler, space and defense at Anaren Inc., 2009-10; engineering/project manager at Wittmann Battenfeld, 2007-09; inside technical salesman at Wittmann Inc., 2006; mechanical engineer at Pierce Industries LLC, 2005-06; owner of GTS Fabrications, 2003-05.
Associations: Chairman of SPI FLiP — The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Future Leaders in Plastics.
Q: Tell us about your family.
Stark: I was born in Michigan and my brother, in Florida. We were a nuclear family, traveling the country as my father worked in the nuclear power industry. We finally settled in central New York, which is where I spent most of my childhood. I moved to Connecticut nine years ago for my career. I am recently remarried to a wonderful woman and have a beautiful, 5-year-old daughter.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Stark: My first plastics job was as a process technician intern for Ball Corp. We were making PET bottles. At the time I thought, “It's a job and the money is good.” I really had no idea what this industry was. On day one of this internship, I found myself standing in front of a sub-10-second-cycling, over 1,000-ton machine, producing more than 100 preforms per cycle. I will never forget the sound, the sight and the feeling I had. Since that day I have been addicted to this industry.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Stark: Building up the team of 30+ people within my division. They are capable, hard-working and humble folks and they are the reason we've seen such significant growth year after year. I take sincere pride in developing a group of people that could exist without me. It's the true measure of a successful leader, in my eyes.
Q: What is your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
Stark: I tried to force change early on in my career. Buy-in was high in the beginning, but disappeared the minute I wasn't involved. Therefore anything I implemented failed the minute I moved on. You cannot sustain anything with this approach. I've learned to involve the team, ask questions, let them drive change from within, for what they feel are the right reasons.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Stark: Growing pains and skills gaps. We are growing at such a rapid pace it's hard to stay on top of it. We have done a great job so far, but it is the most challenging topic for me and keeps me up at night.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Stark: Industry 4.0 is a hot topic that I like. I can close my garage door and change my thermostat from miles away, on my cell phone. And yet components of industrial equipment cannot talk to one another. We are at a milestone period where we will start to see all of that change, especially in the plastics industry. It's long overdue.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Stark: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw; I live my life by this quote! I also believe that if a door is not opening for you, then build one.
Q: Who is your mentor, or someone you look up to?
Stark: My grandfather. He sparked my interest in tinkering and building things. I still have his old toy steam engine from 1912 on my desk that we played with when I was a kid. He spent his life in manufacturing. He was also one of the most humble people I've known and I've learned a lot from that.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Stark: I don't want a “job.” I want to be leading the most revolutionary enterprise in the plastics industry! I'm pretty close to this now, but who knows what the future will bring?
Q: What do you do to relax?
Stark: “No-device night” at home! Also time with my family keeps my grounded. I like to run and spend time outdoors. I'm a type A, so relaxing for me is probably work for most!