Middlefield, Ohio — Darrell McNair was a wrestler in high school and at Kent State University. He describes himself as a hard worker who isn't afraid to take a risk.
McNair, 53, owns MVP Plastics Inc. in Middlefield, an automotive injection molder in the Amish center 45 miles east of Cleveland. Buggies go down the streets of the industrial park. A local restaurant beckons on the corner.
McNair was just 16 when he graduated from high school in Chicago. He got a wrestling scholarship to KSU, and graduated in 1983 with a degree in business and political science.
An overachiever. “I consider myself pretty intelligent, but I'm not part of the Mensa society. I'm just a really hard worker,” he said in an interview at MVP.
He got into plastics in 2000, buying Nescor Plastics Corp., an automotive molder in Mesopotamia, Ohio, near Middlefield.
His first job out of college was in Akron, in sales and marketing in for IBM. Computers helped the company make inroads into the copier market dominated by Xerox. “I learned about how a large organization works. The complexities of large organizations. I learned selling and marketing techniques. That was my experience,” he said.
After IBM, he started a paper distribution firm with his father. His parents had moved to Cleveland by then; home, since his mom was from Cleveland and his dad from Akron. They also bought into a construction company. In the evenings, McNair got an MBA from Baldwin-Wallace College, in 1988. He was in his mid-20s.
Then McNair went to Ford, in training for a finance job. Then he left to get into plastics, by buying Nescor, with an equity partner. He bought out the partner in 2008.
“When you take a resin pellet, and to form and shape it and engineer it, it's very amazing,” McNair said. “As consumers, we take so much for granted out there — like it just ends up on the shelf —but there's a science behind it. It's not rocket science, but there is a science behind it."
MVP fosters continuous training for its 75 employees, at the Middlefield factory and a new plant this year in Brownsville, Texas. McNair said the company likes to get state matching grants for training. “They have a lot of opportunities,” he said.
He had a lot to learn about plastics, but lifelong learning is one of McNair's core beliefs. “Well my parents, particularly my mother having been an educator, education was instilled in us,” he said. “It's one of those things — life — every day is a new lesson to be learned in life. And it's how you take those lessons and apply it to your future, to either repeat the same mistakes you made the day before, or learn from those mistakes.”
Also true is the fact that tough times make you flexible, McNair said. He's talking about the 2008-2009 Great Recession that slammed the economy.
McNair closed a plant in Champion, Ohio, and moved the Mesopotamia plant to a building next door to custom molder Venture Plastics Inc. in Newton Falls, Ohio. The two companies teamed up to try and ease excess capacity in the downturn, he said.
“It was a partnership to get us through a very, very difficult time,” McNair said.
The four-year working arrangement ended in 2012, when McNair bought a molder in Middlefield and named the company MVP. He had been using Venture's plant in El Paso, Texas, and so MVP opened its own molding operation in Brownsville this summer.
Automotive molding accounts for 80 percent of MVP's sales, McNair said. He declined to give the sales. Between the two factories, the company runs 24 injection presses, of several brands, with clamping forces from 80-750 tons.
On a recent tour in Middlefield, MVP was molding and assembly air outlets for cars. Other presses molded housings for side mirrors, and sheaths to cover seat belt mechanisms.
MVP practices lean manufacturing and continuous improvement.
“My big thing is always trying to create a culture of continuous improvement and excellence and trying to always strive to do better today than we did the day before,” McNair said. “I don't like to tell my people what to do, because I like them to think for themselves. I like to encourage entrepreneurial thinking within our company.”
MVP is open to working with inventors. McNair said that was part of the solution during the recession. Asked to name his most unusual job, he recalls a couple from Dallas, Chuck and Bobbi Cox, that came up with a customized locking mailbox. The system could be automatically opened by the postal delivery person — a potentially gargantuan national market.
They were looking to manufacture in China, but a mutual contact linked the Coxes with MVP. McNair hosted the couple for three months, introducing them to local economic development agencies and potential investors. They connected with Cleveland design house Nottingham Spirk. But in the end, the inventors ran into a common dead end — they needed to raise millions of the dollars for the tooling, but could not.
A more successful product — still sold now as the Unswing golf training aid — came from a local man, MVP located a steel company in Cleveland, and one in Akron for clubheads. MVP assembled and helped launch the club — which has no plastic parts.
MVP made prototypes and helped with design on another product idea, a space rack.
McNair said he decided take some risks on promising new ideas during the recession, as car sales tumbled.
“At that time, so many people around the country were being laid off. So I said to myself, ‘OK there are a lot of people becoming entrepreneurs during this time period. So we could take our core competency, and share those with individual entrepreneurs.' You know many people have ideas and don't know what to do with them.”