Butler, Ind. — Rick Walters remembers when he was no fun to work for. He recalls a hard-charger where everyone on his team had to keep pace. Or else.
But Walters knew he had to change when he became president of DeKalb Molded Plastics Co. in 2007 if he wanted people to truly follow him.
“This is probably one of the most interesting parts of my career,” Walters said. “I decided I must begin to really listen and be more considerate to other people's thoughts and ideas. I still have flashbacks, but I'm a different person now.”
So, in 2008, Walters reached outside for help as he began to build a team atmosphere. He hired a coach.
“I immediately went into change mode. I had to. It was critical I let everyone know I was different right then if I was ever going to be successful leading DeKalb.
“A few months later, I remember overhearing someone say, ‘He's actually letting me make my own decisions.' That was a big deal to me.”
Walters' story begins 37 years ago when he walked into DeKalb one day to take the job as a night shift supervisor.
“I had no idea what a plastic pellet was. I didn't even know it was in pellet form,” said Walters, who shares ownership of the structural foam molder with Jeff Rodgers, who retired in 2009. “How many people get to work for the company they first worked for? It's a dream come true.”
Walters and Rodgers bought the company in 1997 from JSJ Corp. At that point, Rodgers became president and Walters served as vice president of operations. Ten years later, Walters became president as Rodgers transitioned into retirement.
DeKalb Molded Plastics has 80,000 square feet of factory space sitting on 12 acres. DeKalb makes large parts, including kidney-dialysis cabinets, pallets made from recycled resin and round, yellow safety barriers that are filled with sand and placed near collision areas on highways and ramps.