Cynthia Rancourt, 57
CEO, Polymer Solutions Inc., Christiansburg, Va.
Q: Describe your company, what it does, and its culture.
Rancourt: Polymer Solutions Inc. is an independent testing lab that serves the plastics industry with chemical analysis and physical testing. PSI was founded nearly 30 years ago with the goal of solving and preventing materials science problems. Our culture is based on a work-hard, play-hard mentality and our team is full of passionate scientists that love a great challenge and the ability to think critically. Quirky is a great way to describe us; we are loud and proud about our love for great science. Every team member at PSI is considered a scientist.
Whether their role is in marketing, accounting or in our laboratories, everyone is expected to approach their job with the scientific method and a curious mindset.
Q: What's the most interesting or unusual job you've ever had?
Rancourt: I was the music and movement teacher at a preschool while my children were young. I loved it! It taught me how to come up with a great plan but remain flexible for the unexpected; thinking on my feet was a must. I also learned to celebrate each unique child and their gifts. That concept now translates into celebrating the strengths of each employee at PSI and how they contribute to the team.
Q: What was your first job in plastics?
Rancourt: My first job in the plastics industry was at PSI. I began with an administrative role and quickly transitioned into part of the quality assurance team. I had an affinity for understanding how a quality system makes the entire company stronger and over time I became the quality assurance manager.
Q: Tell us about a mentor you've had in your career.
Rancourt: Jim Rancourt, my husband, has been a great mentor and has encouraged my growth as a leader. He was CEO of PSI prior to me and laid a remarkable foundation. He helped me develop my critical thinking skills, which are essential for a scientist and executive alike.
Q: When did you become CEO, and what was your first goal?
Rancourt: I became acting CEO in September 2015, I permanently took on this role in December 2015. My first goal was to increase accountability across all departments. We have experienced tremendous growth in the last year which at times has come with growing pains. It has required us to increase efficiencies and more clearly define areas of responsibility.
Q: What's the best career advice you've received?
Rancourt: To leave “white space” in your day, which is undefined time used for evaluation, strategy development and planning tactics. It is also great to have a buffer for any situations that unexpectedly pop up.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting at your company tomorrow?
Rancourt: Since we do high-consequence work and we have high expectations of our scientists I would tell them to ask questions, clarify and not operate off assumptions. I would also encourage them to always stay curious about the work they are doing here. A sense of curiosity is a powerful tool when coming up with complex solutions to materials science problems.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be as CEO?
Rancourt: I want it to be said that I fostered a company culture that was team-centered, often fun and fully committed to excellence.