Alexander Fung's career highlight was starting an application development and resin distribution business with a colleague.
"I received numerous awards at my former multinational employer, but none of that compares to the responsibility that falls on your shoulders as a small-business owner," he said.
The new company, Conventus Polymers LLC in Parsippany, N.J., made its first sale in the first quarter of 2013. Reaching $1 million in sales was an important milestone.
"Conventus Polymers has grown triple digits each year since then," he said.
Fung's first plastics job was in the commercial leadership program at GE Plastics in 2006. He had a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University, and he had a laser-like focus on joining the company.
"I knew nothing about plastics, but I did know I wanted to work for GE. I was turned down by the company eight times before I received a job. What really got me absorbed into the industry was the diversity of projects and problems you were trying to solve as raw materials supplier."
During his tenure at GE and Saudi Basic Industries, which bought the GE Plastics business, he took a Six Sigma Black Belt role in order to deal with an issue at the company's polycarbonate and polybutylene terephthalate plant.
"At the time, I was on the commercial team and my commercial colleagues thought I was crazy for wanting to go into manufacturing. Who would go from a cushy sales job to a manufacturing plant to try and fix a production problem?
"I had no idea what I was in for. I only knew that it sounded hard and no one was foolish enough to do it, so I had to get recognized by leadership, right? What was labeled as a Six Sigma job ultimately became a role about driving a cultural change, and it took me a long time and a lot of mistakes to learn how to do that effectively. To this day, being successful in a role that was outside of my comfort zone was my greatest achievement."
Tell us about your family: My wife and I have three girls, ages 4, 2 and 1. We are fortunate to live in a wooded lake community, which is a little unusual for northern New Jersey. Our family spends most weekend on the beach swimming, kayaking and fishing.
If my wife and I can find someone to watch the kids, we will often go mountain biking in town. Our parents are very involved with our kids' upbringing. My wife is Polish and I am Chinese, so sometimes it can be confusing figuring out what is going on at home with multiple languages being spoken.
Biggest failure and what it taught you? When we started Conventus Polymers, the focus was to become an application development and distribution company focused on high-performance resins and compounds, but the truth was this was very outside our comfort zone at the time, and it was often easier to focus on more commoditized resins. We ended up trying to be too many things to too many people. Those paths ended up being shortsighted and short-lived and if anything cost us precious time.
In the last few years, we have really doubled down our efforts on our strengths. Stick to your guns, really excel at one thing, and don't lose focus to enticing distractions.
What is your current challenge at work? As the world continues to develop more and more capacity for engineered and high-performance resins, it is becoming even more difficult to offer a unique solution. For example, 10 years ago there was one primary PEEK resin producer. Today, there are at least six! So thermoplastics in general have become more commoditized, you really need to help your customers find optimal performance and value solutions for the projects. This is an area we have excelled.
What is the best advice you have ever received?: A former executive at GE once told me, you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio.
What do you do to relax?: My 4-year-old tells me about her day every evening.