John Manuck, CEO Techmer PM
Techmer PM CEO John Manuck built that materials firm on four cornerstones. Thirty-five years later, the company is still standing strong.
In a recent interview with Plastics News, Manuck summarized these four items:
• A strong and positive corporate culture, one that includes openness and collaboration.
• A focus on quality and on technical innovation to succeed in high end markets. “We don't want to compete on price,” he said. “We want to compete on quality.”
• Building an organization that's focused on customers. “That sounds simple, but it takes some effort,” he said.
• Continuing to invest in new facilities in seeking out the best people.
Manuck, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, launched Techmer in Los Angeles in 1981. At that time he'd already been working for various plastics firms for 15 years after getting his start at a resin plant in Springfield, Mass. He took a key step to grow Techmer when he partnered with a Japanese firm in 1987 in order to help the firm expand into the Eastern United States.
“Going to Japan at that time for me was like going to Mars,” Manuck said. “But we had to find a way to take the company to the next level.”
By design, he added, Techmer had started start as a small company with only five employees. “Our big issue was expanding to the East,” Manuck recalled. “It was daunting, but one market I knew was synthetic fibers in the Southeast U.S. So we decided to build a new plant in Tennessee.”
Today, Techmer is headquartered in Clinton, Tenn., where the firm also operates a major production plant. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited the site in early 2015.
While at Techmer, Obama and Biden took a look at a Shelby Cobra sports car that was 3-D printed at the nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory site using carbon fiber materials made at the Techmer plant. “Every time we visit a customer, they want to hear the Obama and Biden story,” Manuck said.
Several years ago, Techmer started to work with the Management Systems Consulting advisory firm. Techmer then began using a pyramid of organizational development — designed by MSC — that's based on the pyramid of success used by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
According to Manuck, the pyramid has given Techmer a good business foundation that's allowed the firm to survive and thrive. At Techmer, the pyramid explains as much as 70 percent of the firm's gross margin, 55 percent of pretax profit and 22 percent of return on investment.
Today, Techmer ranks as one of North America's 30 largest compounders and concentrate makers. The firm has annual sales of more than $200 million and was named as one of Plastics News' Best Places to Work in 2014 and 2016. Techmer employs about 600 at seven plants across the United States.
Every year, Techmer interviews potential employees from 17 universities around the country. Techmer flies the top 10 or 12 candidates to its Tennessee site for a full day of interviews. Then Manuck hosts an evening dinner party for the students at his home.
“It's important to see people in a social environment,” he said earlier this year. “These are engineering and science [students], but can they relate to other people? If they can't do that internally, how will they do it in the supply chain and with customers?”
Techmer and its employees support numerous nonprofit agencies, community programs and schools. Employees can get paid time off for charity work. As the company encourages strong community ties, it also promotes strong family ties by holding events like picnics and a Halloween haunted trail for employees' children.
PN isn't the only one to recognize Techmer with awards. The compounder received the East Tennessee College Alliance's 2015 Corporate Award for promotion and support of non-traditional, working students. Techmer also won the Large Business Excellence Award from the Anderson County (Tennessee) Chamber of Commerce in 2014.
Manuck is joined at Techmer by his stepson, Ryan Howley, who joined the firm in 1999 and now serves as its president, and by his stepdaughter, Heather Howley, who started working for the in 2004 and now is its human resources director. Ryan Howley is expected to take Manuck's place as CEO when Manuck retires.
Manuck added that perseverance is an important part of being a CEO. “Fate deals the cards and you play the hand,” he said. “Sometimes you get four aces and sometimes you get a lousy hand — but you still have to play it.”