Rubber may be in just about every facet of daily life, but minorities in the rubber industry — especially at the executive level — can be a rare commodity.
Enter Cedric Glasper, CEO of Mechanical Rubber Products Co. Inc., who purchased the custom contract manufacturer of rubber and plastics in 1995. He grew up in St. Louis and has spent his recent years anywhere between Warwick, N.Y., and central California, the East and West Coast locations of Mechanical Rubber.
He has led the company through acquisitions and expansions, and he has done it through competition and collaboration — "coopetition," as he calls it — as well as diversity of thought.
"I am a strong believer that you need the fringes to make you better," Glasper said. "You may not be able to pinpoint exactly what that means, but you know it's different — and it adds value. 'Coopetition' — collaborating with a competitor. In some cases it's like a marriage. But to do that, you have to bring in diversity."
Glasper has operated with this philosophy since his academic days at the University of Missouri at Columbia, California State University San Bernardino and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, where he studied architecture, mechanical engineering and urban planning. And he leans on this philosophy in his professional career, welcoming those with unique and different thought processes as opportunities to learn, to add another tool to the toolbox.
"A lot of people, including Black males, miss out on that lesson," he said. "It is an opportunity to say, 'I am equal, I can learn, I can compete, I can start something and finish something.' Everything is opportunity. Your competitor, your adversary, presents an opportunity to make you better.
"Being Black, I don't spend a lot of time now focusing on the fact I am Black. I know who I am. I'm fine with that. What I focus on is my competitor or my adversary, and they are the opportunity."
Glasper gleaned his drive to succeed in part from his father, who was hired in St. Louis by what was then a relatively unknown package delivery service company called UPS. His father obtained his job through affirmative action.
"Word got out that they were hiring Black people. I saw a lot of the growth of UPS, a lot of the different perspectives that helped expand the company into what it is today," Glasper said. "You can't have too many people in the middle ground who think the same. You have to have that quiet 'coopetition.'"
Glasper is a risk taker because someone with a different background took a risk on him. He was hired out of college by a Jewish family that owned Itran-Tompkins Rubber Corp., a bonded metal and custom-molded rubber company based in New Jersey.
"That is where I got my opportunity," he said. "They are a minority. I had to learn the culture to understand this. Nothing was handed to them, either.
"As far as Black folks in America, we have a long history of oppression. We feel that boot on our neck — I am reminded of the George Floyd situation — and I had to prove myself to get these opportunities. Fast forward to today, and I had to prove myself to be in this interview. I've been vetted."
Glasper said that people in the margins and on the fringes "are the most creative people on the planet."
"The poorest folks have to be creative to eat. The wealthy expect it to be handed to them," he said. "Those with diverse backgrounds will look under different stones than you look under. Nothing can stop you if you embrace diversity."