Nashville, Tenn. — Patricia Miller had a career track most people dream of, serving as a marketing director for biotech company Halozyme Therapeutics following a stint at another major medical company. Then she walked away to run her own injection molding business.
"My board asked me, 'Who goes into manufacturing?'" Miller said during a Nov. 11 presentation at the Women Breaking the Mold forum in Nashville, organized by Plastics News.
It was also the question her grandfather asked when she took over his company in 2014.
The answer, she said, was that she wanted to make something. Not just parts, although design and development is at the center of Matrix 4, a Chicago-area molding business. She said she believes in the "maker culture," and she wanted to have a company "that has a seat for everyone at the table."
"I believed there was something more," Miller said. "I wanted to really allow every single person, down to whoever sweeps the floor, to know that what they are making goes into products that benefit us every single day."
So M4, in Woodstock, Ill., became a maker of things, but also a company that married design with molding while also stressing a corporate culture where people were hired because they would be good for the team.
"There are places where one person is at the helm and the rest are doers and you didn't question the helm," Miller said. "There are places where there's a tendency to keep a jerk because they do the job well. That's not what I wanted to do.
"Flip the table," she said. "Don't chase culture, but instead, drive it."
To drive that change, she pushed for M4 to move from a traditional injection molding shop to one that was a design studio and industry design mover that also did injection molding. That means more than simply having one engineer who was comfortable with CAD.
Let's make meaningfully, M4 notes on its website. Let's make something that's not "just another widget." Instead, let's push the envelope and make an impact on our clients, our community and our environment. Let's deconstruct traditional risk-averse manufacturing silos and build a new model of making that is holistic, courageous and accountable.
M4's intent is to influence the next revolution of U.S. manufacturing.
"Everyone in manufacturing deserves a medal," Miller said. "The amount of moving pieces in manufacturing are more than I thought possible."
As part of that transition, M4 will be rolling out its own proprietary consumer brand in 2020, and it recently announced it is accepting applications for its 2020 Artist Residency program. The selected artist will "challenge, learn and discover the potential of the medium of plastic."
For the first Artist Residency, Miller and Chief Design Officer Kyle Swen wanted to challenge how melted resin and purgings could become sculpture.
The 2019 program worked with Eric Huebsch, a multimedium artist who first trained as a glass blower. He created chairs with a polypropylene regrind base and oversized tongues from PP.
"The good news when you're the owner is that you don't have to make the argument," Miller said. "You get to set the tone."
Elevate how a company can make things, she said. Make a brand. Find people who inspire you.
"Having a tribe around you is important. Have core girlfriends, have people in the industry you want to learn from," she said. "It's about finding those people around you you respect."