Kristen Birkmayer was the only woman in her entire Rochester Institute of Technology manufacturing engineering technology graduating class. Today, Birkmayer is vice president and general manager of injection molding engineering for the Kentucky operations at Wilbert Plastic Services, an injection molder and thermoformer headquartered in Belmont, N.C.
"I've consistently been one of few, if not the only, women in most of my roles throughout my career," she said in her Women Breaking the Mold survey.
Birkmayer, 48, graduated from RIT with a bachelor's degree in manufacturing engineering technology.
Following college, Birkmayer worked as an engineer at Ford Motor Co., where she experienced one of her greatest career accomplishments.
"I was responsible for idling the Ford Maumee Stamping Plant. Despite the union environment and the fact that jobs were being eliminated, the Maumee Stamping Plant team successfully idled the plant a year early and under budget. We did not experience sabotage, and the team truly pulled together [to] execute a plan that had personal consequences for everyone," she said.
Birkmayer said another proud career accomplishment was building two depleted engineering departments and an estimating department into "one structured, process-driven and efficient organization."
"My first plastics job was as director of operations for a supplier of injection molded assemblies for the aerospace, construction and agriculture industries," she said. "I had spent the first 15 years of my career in metal stamping and welding assembly. I made the transition from stamping to injection molding seamlessly.
"The processes are very similar. Both processes use die/mold sets to form material. I have 21 years of experience processing and manufacturing sheet metal or injection molded plastic parts for the automotive industry," she added.
She said her biggest failure has been building, opening and operating a restaurant and convenience store, which in turn taught her "every intimate aspect of running a business."
"The experience also taught me to look forward and anticipate and plan for external influences outside your control," she said. "I am very strong in risk mitigation and forward planning because I have experienced the failure of a business that was starting up as the recession of 2008-2012 occurred."
Birkmayer started at Wilbert in 2014 as business unit leader before moving up to Southeast injection molding engineering manager and director of injection molding engineering, followed by her current position as vice president and general manager of injection molding engineering and Kentucky operations.
If she were an executive of a company, Birkmayer said she would create an apprenticeship program within the community, establish metrics at every level and a formal succession planning process, and streamline and error-proof the transactional processes.
She considers Wilbert President and CEO Greg Botner to be a mentor. "Greg has helped me develop my business acumen," she said.
Birkmayer also said her father is an influence.
"My father was an entrepreneur," she said, "and he taught me my work ethic and gave me some of my greatest leadership attributes: integrity, drive for results and courage."