Fort Worth, Texas — Robert Porsche, the newest Thermoformer of the Year, owns Milwaukee thermoformer General Plastics Inc., but he got his start in plastics back in 1975, as a salesman for Profile Plastics Inc. — started in 1960 by John Grundy.
Grundy, the 1993 Thermoformer of the Year, was a pioneer who led developments such as gas fired rotary formers and five-axis trimming robots. In the early 1980s, Profile Plastics became one of the first companies to do high-pressure sheet forming. Porsche was there.
Grundy died in 2017 after a long battle with Parkinson's and leukemia.
Porsche credited working with Grundy and his wife, Diane, with running a solid, innovative company.
"John taught us all to think out of the box, with great vision with achievements in heavy-gauge pressure forming," he said. "Pretty much back then it was just getting started. But the beginning of the '80s we were making parts, and I had the opportunity to sell the first one. So for me as a salesperson at heart, that was a great thing."
Back then, Porsche said salespeople did it all.
"In today's world of sales in thermoforming, very few us have the opportunity to not only sell the job, take it back, order the pattern, pick up the pattern at the pattern shop, bring it back into the company, form your own samples, and deliver them the next day to your customer," he said. "That was my journey with John Grundy and Profile Plastics. He gave us a whole broad scope of what life really is, in all aspects of being involved in thermoforming."
Porsche accepted the 2018 Thermoformer of the Year honor during the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoforming Conference, Sept. 25 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
"I'm extremely honored to have this great, prestigious award," he said. "It's something that I think all of us, as members, would like to achieve."
Porsche actually has received the award twice. The Thermoforming Division named Porsche Thermoformer of the Year last year, but the 2017 conference and awards ceremony, set for Orlando, Fla., got canceled when Hurricane Irma pounded through.
Porsche recounted his long service on the board of directors of the Thermoforming Division. One of his first groups was the machinery committee. The volunteer work led to many friendships, he said.
"I guess I'm just lucky to be part of that elite group that basically changed my life," Porsche said.
He struck out on his own in 1987, buying General Plastics, which had about 10 employees housed in an 11,000-square-foot facility. Today the company employs 75 and now covers 93,000 square feet.
General Plastics won the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Award for the small business category in 2014 and 2016. The thermoformer was a finalist for Plastics News' 2016 Processor of the Year Award.
Ian Strachan, the 2016 Thermoformer of the Year, introduced Porsche as this year's winner. "He's been a very, very people-oriented person, Strachan said. "And I'm told he turned out to be a fantastic salesman [at Profile Plastics]. Everybody that I've spoken to about his capabilities, everybody said, 'Wow, this guy knows to sell.'"
Porsche said his working life boils down to effort.
"The one great takeaway for all of us, is nothing can replace hard work, and out-hustling your competitors. We all know that there's always someone smarter, someone luckier, but never let anyone work harder than you do. And you'll be successful," he said.