As the leader of Proto Labs Inc., Vicki Holt gets paid to lead the company and make final decisions.
But that doesn't mean the CEO is going to make those moves in a vacuum.
Holt, who has helmed the Maple Plain, Minn.-based company since 2014, leans on her management team through collaboration. It's an approach that has allowed the company to essentially triple in size during the last five years, with sales now approaching $500 million, and an approach that Holt expects will create a $1 billion company.
"I absolutely love taking businesses from point A to point B, really driving change and working closely with the leadership team and a team of people in order to accomplish that," Holt said.
"My style is very much people first and collaborative, which I think is absolutely critical for success in a digitally connected world," she said. "Those two things, the passion I've got for taking businesses someplace and this people-first collaborative style has put me in a good position to make some differences."
Holt has enjoyed a long career, including a previous stint as CEO of Spartech Corp., a plastic products and compounds company based in Clayton, Mo., that was sold to PolyOne Corp. in 2012. She also spent years with Monsanto and then Solutia Inc. after that portion of the company was spun off. And there was a stint with onetime glass and fiberglass maker PPG Industries Inc.
"I think I've always had the tendency to collaborate and work closely with people and teams. I have learned over time, to successfully move larger organizations forward with change, it takes very purposeful engagement and communication," Holt said.
That's why the CEO often will ask not only about details of a project, but also a time frame in which a decision must be made. This allows for a clear understanding of what's needed ahead.
"One of the things I like to do is I like to understand what is the timeline when a decision has to be made and know that up front because I don't want to slow anything down," Holt said. "Then what I do is really listen. I ask a lot of people to weigh in on what they think and why they think it. I'm very overt with my team," she said.
"I'm still in my mulling mode," she said. "It is the collective wisdom of that team that makes companies great. It's not an individual. It's the collective wisdom of the team, and I will make a decision in time so we don't slow things down."
Proto Labs is not your typical plastics processing company, relying instead on low-volume, high-value products for companies that both need and can afford such an approach.
Markets including medical devices, consumer electronics, industrial equipment, automotive and aerospace are important segments for the company.
"We tend to play where there is a high degree of innovation," she said.
Even the way the company wins business is unique. Prospective customers will send in, through the internet, computer files containing specifications for the parts they need.
From there, Proto Labs can both design the mold and produce the finished part, sometimes in as little as a single day.
This approach, winning lots of smaller, fast-paced projects, means Proto Labs never has much of a backlog in work. While that adds pressure to the operation, it also allows the company to stay nimble in responding to customer needs. A typical injection molded production run might be 500 pieces.
Along with injection molding plastic parts, the company also provides liquid silicone rubber molding, overmolding and insertion molding services. Proto Labs additionally makes metal parts and provides 3D printing services in both plastic and metal.
"We're really a very unique, disruptive technology company," Holt explained. "We deal with a lot of complexity and a high-mix, low-volume world is where we live."