Hillary Thomas, 28
Vice President, Westminster Tool Inc.
Hillary Thomas earned her bachelor's degree in international business with concentrations in Spanish and marketing. She spent one semester abroad in Spain, where she held an internship and completed a product launch.
She joined Hanna Instruments in 2014 for an internal sales role in Woonsocket, R.I., then interim regional sales manager in Dallas and international sales consultant in Australia. She then worked in sales and marketing for Plainfield, Conn.-based Westminster Tool Inc. in 2017 before becoming vice president in 2018.
"For me personally, one of my greatest achievements was moving abroad alone in 2016. Even harder was doing so to manage an office which did not necessarily want me there," she said. "This experience dramatically impacted my ability to succeed when returning to the family company. It taught me the importance of humility and taking the time to learn about a team's existing processes before making any changes."
Her father, Ray Coombs Jr., founded Westminster in their basement in 1997, manufacturing tooling components at night and on weekends. He moved into the company's first facility in 1999 and began forming an injection mold building company.
"We grew up working in and helping out at the shop through college and in 2020, due to the pandemic, both of my younger siblings returned home and are now also involved in the family business," Thomas said.
Being the second-generation leader in the family and business, Thomas said she has focused her career growth on leadership skills and manufacturing technical knowledge.
"In the last two years, I have forced myself out of my comfort zone by quoting, managing projects, kitting jobs, participating in mold trials and attending technical presentations so that I can become a more knowledgeable leader," she said. "To become a stronger leader, I have been focusing on improving my emotional Intelligence and ability to not only be a leader but help grow other leaders. This includes networking with younger women in the plastics industry and offering advice."
Thomas is involved with the American Mold Builders Association, Society of Plastics Engineers Marketing Committee and Plastics Industry Association's Future Leaders in Plastics Engagement Committee.
Thomas enjoys running along the boardwalk, riding her Peloton, hiking, skiing, traveling and experiencing new cultures.
Q: What is your philosophy related to plastics and sustainability? What steps have you taken to improve plastics' sustainability, either in work, your community or personal life?
Thomas: I believe plastic is a critical component to our lives but also supports the initiatives to become more sustainable either through sustainable polymers or supporting activities that help reduce the impact on the environment. At Westminster Tool, we ensure strong promotion of recycling efforts internally and have started seeking projects with customers that are looking to use sustainable polymers.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Thomas: Building a team of middle management. As a young team, we have a great set of 40-plus individual contributors, but we have grown to a point where we need a strong team of managers or team leaders. While we have an amazing team we could build into this role, they also currently serve critical roles in our manufacturing processes. I have been leaning on industry webinar and training programs this year to help them build the skills and I am hoping that my emerging leaders will help me define what middle management looks like.
Q: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic?
Thomas: I have had to move into a "health care" role without any experience to prepare me for this. Since the state and country are constantly changing the rules and expectations and I need to balance those with the health of the business, at times I have had to be responsible for choices regarding our team's health. This has required me to work countless hours each night educating myself and preparing documents to help educate my team.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Thomas: Develop a R&D team to focus on manufacturing the same high quality plastic components with more sustainable polymers. I feel this is a key way to sustaining the "image" of plastics.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Thomas: Through Plastics, I was connected with Scott Farmer from Berry Global. He has had a huge impact on my career and life in 2020, and it has been great to learn from and get inspiration from another person in the industry outside of my family. I also look up to the many second- and third-generation females that have taken over their family businesses. It is not easy to take over a family business let alone one in a male dominated industry — and usually all while raising a family!