It's a safe bet that Colleen Lehnen is the only plastics industry CEO who previously worked as a go-go dancer.
Lehnen, 64, was a go-go dancer in New Orleans in one of her pre-plastics jobs. Today, she's president and CEO of Professional Polymers Inc., a materials brokerage in North Palm Beach, Fla.
Professional Polymers buys and sells all types of plastic resins, regrinds and additives. Lehnen owns the firm, which has primarily focused on hiring women and military personnel since being launched by Lehnen in 2000.
Lehnen started in the industry in 1982 working as the secretary of Herbert Heller, founder of materials distribution firm H. Heller & Co. Inc. in Palm Beach, Fla. Early in her career, Lehnen coordinated the construction of new office suites for the firm.
She later branched out into resin sales, calling on injection molders in the area.
"I've trained more than 50 people in this business and worked my way up from a secretary to the president/CEO of my own company," Lehnen said.
She credited Herbert Heller as a mentor and for teaching her the plastics business.
"He was a tough guy to work for, but I learned what to do and what not to do in this business," she said. "He expected us to make 50 calls a day and to never take no for an answer."
"I wouldn't be in plastics without Herb Heller's influence and mentoring," she said.
When Lehnen opened Professional Polymers in 2000, her goal was "to have a good reputation in this industry, to always know what I was selling, to take care of any problems immediately and to pay everyone on time so they never had to call me for payment."
"I have accomplished these goals," she said.
The best career advice Lehnen received was to pay people on time and to represent the material you sell to the best of your ability. As for advice she'd give to a new employee, Lehnen said she'd tell them that plastics "isn't as easy of a business as it used to be."
"It takes a hunger to make money, to get on the phones [and] to know the questions to ask to avoid any problems," she said.
Lehnen hasn't been shy about finding out what she needs to know to do business. "I've climbed on rail cars to look at material and maneuvered over piles of plastic to get a better look at boxes that I needed to see," she said. "Plastics can be a messy business."
Lehnen said that she hopes her legacy "is that I had an excellent reputation in this industry."
"The fact that I have had some of the same customers and suppliers for the past 36 years shows that I do business the right way," she added. "I'm careful about what I ship to my customers and pay all my suppliers within terms."