Karen Sturgeon was a single mother working as a recruiter outside the industry when she launched KLA Industries Inc., an executive search firm specializing in the plastics industry. There were times when she had to take her daughter to trade shows and client visits, she said.
"At that time, rubber and plastics was the largest employer in the state of Ohio, where I was, so that became our niche from day one and my first job in plastics," Sturgeon said.
On its website, KLA says it grows teams of all levels in "executive management, business development, product development, engineering and manufacturing operations."
"My company has the privilege of being able to see every process, technology and market within plastics so I would like to say all of them [are interesting], but there are a few that particularly interest me. Anything having to do with helping people live longer and healthier lives really excites me. We have clients that are pioneering the use of 3D printing for medical devices and developing biomedical polymers for implants and drug delivery, just to give a couple of examples," she said.
Before founding KLA Industries, Sturgeon was a theater actress in New York who graduated from the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, the school that produced Robert Duvall, Jeff Goldblum and many others. She earned a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in education from Adelphi University.
"The single thing I am most proud of is growing KLA from just me in 1999 to the largest executive recruiting firm in plastics," she said.
"From a company perspective, my greatest achievement has been developing the next-generation leaders so the company can continue helping the plastics industry grow for decades to come," Sturgeon added. "On a personal level, I recruited the global head of innovation for Sabic. The role was critical to their success at that time and involved recruiting a German national to work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia."
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Sturgeon: My biggest challenge now is supporting my clients with the talent they need during the tightest labor market we have seen in our lifetimes.
Q: Most unexpected thing you learned from the pandemic?
Sturgeon: I learned more precisely just how important the plastics industry is to the health and well-being of everyone. From the mass production of PPE [personal protective equipment] to packaging for vaccines, I saw all around us the grassroots need for what we do in times of crisis.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Sturgeon: Having "been there and done that," the most important thing is to identify your mission and purpose, then find leaders who will share your mission. Surround yourself with people better than you and who complement your weaknesses.