Grand Rapids, Mich. — The Mold Builder of the Year, Mark Slack, comes from a family of machinists.
"My dad was a mold maker. And I remember back when I was like 10 probably, and my dad started a benching company on the side. And I just remember being out on our picnic table and him teaching me how to bench a cavity properly," Slack said in his acceptance speech.
His three brothers also were toolmakers.
Slack turned those humble beginnings into a long career.
"It's been a great industry. It's been a great income for me and my family," said Slack, who is director of operations for global tooling at Roush Industries Inc.
The American Mold Builders Association announced the 2018 Mold Builder of the Year and the Tooling Trailblazer of the Year at an awards banquet Feb. 15 during AMBA's annual conference in Grand Rapids.
MSI Mold Builders, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won Tooling Trailblazer of the Year for the company's work in promoting education and skilled young employees.
Progressive Components Inc. provided each award winner with $5,000 for use in an industry-related education program that they choose. After the conference, Slack said he would split his $5,000 between two high schools: Romeo Engineering & Technology Center in Washington Township, Mich., and Lincoln High School Career and Technical Education Center in Warren, Mich.
In comments from the podium in Grand Rapids, Slack praised AMBA and said he looks forward to coming to the conference every year. He made a play on President Donald Trump's pledge to make American great again: "Let's make mold making great again."
"That's what all you guys do, getting together," he said. "There's no other industry that I know of, that everybody opens up to their competitors and lets them come in and shows them what they're doing," he said.
Slack's career started in 1978. In 1986, he moved from Shapiro Mold to become the first employee of a new company, Crucam, where he had the responsibility of running day-to-day operations. Crucam became a leading distributor of Camax manufacturing and tooling software. From 1987 to 1999, the Livonia, Mich., company had grown to nearly $14 million in sales and 150 employees.
In 1991, Crucam started machining and building molds. The company bought Artisan Mold Co. in 1995.
Roush, an engineering and specialty manufacturing company, bought Crucam in 1999. Roush promoted Slack to director of operations. He was instrumental in taking the business directly to automakers, as the company became an interior cockpit prototype integrator for Ford Motor Co. in 2005.
He then expanded the company's tooling business, as Roush became a leader in automotive molds prototype tooling.
At the awards banquet, last year's Mold Builder of the Year, Joe Genc, introduced Slack.
"Mark believes in the trade of mold manufacturing and strives to leave a legacy for the younger generation," Genc said.
Slack told the AMBA audience that he plans to retire in mid-2019. He said that, a year ago, he went in for a stress test and ended up in the hospital, getting a stent installed. Slack said he feels better today than he has in years. He said he will miss the excitement of all the new technology coming up for mold making.
"To look at my career and know that I'm ending on this kind of note is just unbelievable," he said.
Slack also credited his wife, Sally, for supporting his career in mold making.
"She would wait until I got home to make dinner. It didn't matter what time it was. She made sure that when I got home, dinner was there with the children," he said.