When the plastics bug bites, it bites early and hard. For Joan Magrath, it came in high school.
Her neighbor, Doug Turner, had just started his own structural foam business — Polystructures — and she worked for him part-time as a babysitter and part-time as an administrator. At first, it was all out of Doug's house, but as the business expanded he moved into an office.
Joan would continue working for him on breaks from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she went to play basketball and major in physical education, even driving the company truck to Canada to pick up molds, operating molding machines on the second shift and handling some accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and estimating work.
Magrath ultimately became so committed to the business that she left school to work at Polystructures full time, eventually moving into sales.
Now Mack Molding Co.'s vice president of sales and engineering, one of Magrath's career highlights was actually beating out Mack on a key project. She was working as a New England sales representative for Southeastern Kusan Inc., then a division of Bethlehem Steel Corp.
Kusan's win triggered a series of events that resulted in Mack's buying Kusan's operations in Inman, S.C., in 1987. And as part of that acquisition, Joan joined Mack as its New England account manager.
She has since risen through the ranks at Mack, helping break the plastics industry's boys' club image, and had a direct hand moving women into key roles, including on her own team — all while helping grow Mack from a $32 million to a $350 million company.
“I had opportunity to head up sales in another company, and my husband advised me to look at pros and cons, as well as factor in loyalty Mack had shown me as an employee,” she said, citing her husband Dan's career advice as the best she has ever received. “Ultimately we decided to stick with Mack rather than the other job, which would have put me in a VP position. It was the long vs. the short play, and just like taking the long view of our business has helped Mack be successful, so too it helped me achieve my career goals.”
With the loyalty and success the plastics industry, and Mack, specifically, have afforded her, Magrath is surprised there is not a stronger draw to plastics for young people, particularly when it comes to toolmakers. It is an evolving and exciting business, she says.
“Specifically in regards to plastics I am most interested in the evolution of materials and equipment,” she said. “Newly developed, higher-performing materials are all extremely attractive and able to meet more stringent specifications, resulting in expanded opportunities for application. However, they also require the equipment to become more advanced. When the design specifications ask for more, the resin suppliers respond, then the equipment manufacturers respond and as the last guy on the line we, the processors, need to know how to put it all together to make the product to meet the spec. Molding machines are large computer processors that have to provide consistency 24/7, so we need to make pretty significant investments in equipment, as well as in training our people. At Mack we have a team in my department that is responsible for staying on top of cutting edge processing techniques, materials and equipment as we are constantly asked to push the limits.”
Even with her passion for plastics, Magrath still considers her family, her home and especially her daughter, Casey, who is currently attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute as an engineering management major with a focus on chemistry and a biology minor, to be her greatest achievements.