The best advice Jay Kumar said he ever received was to leave his job on Wall Street to pursue a career in manufacturing.
Kumar, who had been working as an options trader for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, didn't hesitate. He took the advice, which came from his father, Sunil Kumar, and left behind the Big Apple, bright city lights, towering skyscrapers and cutthroat core of the American finance sector for a new career in — one word — plastics.
Today, the 39-year-old is CEO of Universal Plastics Group, an entity formed in late 2017 in response to a chain of acquisitions that began in 2012. That's when Kumar and his father bought Universal Plastics Corp., an industrial thermoformer in Holyoke, Mass., where Kumar served as president, marking his first foray into manufacturing as well as plastics.
"It was exciting, and it was daunting because there are many aspects of the job that I didn't understand, that I never had exposure to," Kumar said in a phone interview. "But you sit down, and you just kind of figure it out. You learn from the people around you."
Later that year, in 2012, Kumar bought out his father, who was looking to retire. But unlike his son, Sunil Kumar is no stranger to being at the helm of manufacturing companies. He previously worked as president and CEO of chemicals supplier International Specialty Products Inc. and roofing products maker GAF Materials Corp. The serial executive and businessman also co-owns Nylon Corp. of America, a Manchester, N.H.-based nylon resin maker and compounder he bought in 2013 with his daughter, Monica.
While Sunil Kumar has yet to fully retire, his son said he does play a lot more golf now than in the past. Jay Kumar also called his father, whom he considers a mentor, an "incredible force."
"He grew several manufacturing firms through the '80s and the '90s when foreign competition was taking hold and eating America's lunch. … And while he was doing this, he was always home at 5 o'clock to have dinner with us and to play catch with us," Kumar recalled. "That's the model of my life that I aspire to."