James Dow, 80
President, Diversified Plastics Inc., Minneapolis
Q: Describe your company, what it does, and its culture.
Dow: Diversified Plastics Inc. is an award-winning, custom injection molder specializing in contract manufacturing of high precision, close tolerance components for the medical device, filtration, avionics, aerospace and a variety of other industrial markets.
Diversified Plastics employees are proud of the fact that their company makes a difference in the lives of others. Their parts are found in Third World countries creating clean water; in lithium ion batteries used for collecting solar energy; in surgical tools and medical machines used for improving the health of others. And their parts are literally out of this world on NASA's Juno Probe currently orbiting Jupiter allowing scientists to explore the creation of the universe.
The company has never experienced a lay off. In the recession years, the shop hours were cut back to four days with the fifth day being reimbursed from a state funded program. The employees experienced very little salary loss during a difficult time and the company was able to retain everyone.
The culture of the company is more like a family than just a place to work and they enjoy playing together. To that end, when I began thinking about retirement 10 years ago, I met with potential buyers and had some very good offers for the company. But I worried not only that the culture would dramatically change but the jobs of the long-term employees would be terminated through either consolidation or relocation of the company. The employees deserve something better than being put out of work from the sale of the company to someone bigger. So, the company was sold to more understanding buyers: The employees themselves. In 2011, Diversified Plastics launched the Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
Q: What's the most interesting or unusual job you've ever had?
Dow: Certainly the most unusual was as a model for a Wheaties box. My father had a printing company that printed the boxes for Wheaties and they were looking for a model. They selected me at an age of probably four or five as that model. That started and ended my career in that field.
Q: What was your first job in plastics?
Dow: My first job in the plastics industry was when I purchased a failing plastics company. This company ceased operations after several years. From these ashes, Diversified Plastics was conceived.
Q: Tell us about a mentor you've had in your career.
Dow: As odd as it might sound, I would say my best mentors have been and continue to be my employees. Through their feedback, I learn what I can do better and how I can help them to grow.
Q: When did you become CEO, and what was your first goal?
Dow: I became CEO in 1977 and my first goal was to survive.
Q: What's the best career advice you've received?
Dow: When you have a dream, go for it.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting at your company tomorrow?
Dow: Work hard, commit yourself to your job and you will be rewarded not only monetarily but also with personal satisfaction and career growth.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be as CEO?
Dow: Certainly I am proud of the success of my company but more important to me is what I have been able to do for the growth of our employees and the contributions I have been able to make to the community.
The company as a whole participates in many charitable activities every year by more importantly is very involved in local education. Diversified hosts high school and middle school tours several times a year to educate youth on the great opportunities available in manufacturing. I've worked with the local technical college to create a curriculum for upper level molding technicians and currently serve on the county's Workforce Investment Committee.