Gary Hulecki has led MTD Micro Molding through an unexpected leadership transition, a major expansion, and most recently another turn in the spotlight at Plastics News' Best Places to Work awards. Now the 20-year veteran at the Charlton, Mass., micromolding specialist has a new title: CEO.
The company quietly made the change in February. There was no news release because officials wanted to avoid making it look like there was any change in leadership.
Hulecki was already executive vice president and running MTD's day-to-day operations when the previous CEO, Dennis Tully, died of a heart attack in 2019, at age 58, just weeks before the company was named PN Processor of the Year.
But after three years with no one in the CEO role, MTD officials decided it was time to adjust the title to make it clear who was in charge — or more accurately, who was still in charge.
PN recently asked Hulecki questions about the company and his role.
Q: You've kept MTD running through a period that could have potentially been troublesome. How did MTD keep its focus and keep moving forward?
Hulecki: Everybody in the company worked extra hard after Dennis passed away and kept the focus on company goals even sharper because they wanted to make him proud.
When Dennis died, I got everyone together and said, "I am not Dennis. I never will be. But I promise I will do my best." The response from everyone was, "Let us know what you need." When I asked people for help with things outside of their job description, there was no hesitation to take it on and get it done. It made my job easier during such a tough, emotional time.
The hardest thing was not knowing how the employees would respond — Dennis was so beloved and respected. Everyone moved forward together without me asking for it to happen. We have an amazing team, and it was an incredible tribute to Dennis.
Q: In May 2021, MTD completed a major expansion that had been in the works since 2017. You doubled clean room manufacturing and added a new tooling department. How did the team accomplish that?
Hulecki: For the expansion, there was a lot of help internally to get this done. From funding to design details, I became the new sounding board for the decisions. I pushed for the construction to be considered essential work during the pandemic to keep things moving and we were able to complete the project on time.
Q: Just months before MTD was named Processor of the Year, we talked with Dennis about succession planning. He had already stepped back from managing the day-to-day, and he was comfortable with you handling that role. Still, it must have been difficult for you to suddenly have more responsibility. What has that been like?
Hulecki: I missed him most when I needed to make big decisions for the company and employees during the pandemic. When I didn't know what to do, I asked myself, "What is the fair and right thing to do for our employees and our customers?"
It would have been nice to confirm I was doing the right thing and making the right decisions. I was making decisions that affected people's personal lives, and there is no guidebook for how to do it right.
Dennis created our core values, and they truly come into play in every decision we make. I refer to them often when making big and small decisions. I was so relieved to learn we were a recipient of the Best Places to Work award during 2020. It helped my confidence that I did the right thing for our employees that year.
Q: You've been at MTD for nearly 20 years. How has it changed during your tenure? What about the company today would surprise the Gary Hulecki who joined in 2002?
Hulecki: So much has changed. But what sticks out the most is that when I started there were four employees on the floor at MTD — Miniature Tool & Die at the time — and I envisioned maybe having 10-15 as the max employee count — mostly tooling people.
Today we have 41 people with our molding revenue surpassing our tooling revenue long ago.
Back then, everyone was incredibly talented and skilled but preferred to focus on their individual jobs, without collaborating as a team. This made projects difficult at the time. We used to hire mostly based on skill, where now we hire mainly on personality. The skill set is important, but it is more about personality and drive that makes employees teachable and allows them to grow into a position they want. Working in teams and collaborating to solve problems is a big part of our culture now.
Within a couple months of being appointed production manager by Dennis around 2005, I had a new team to manage. My goal at the time was to have a team that worked well together and was open to helping others to reach a common goal. Creating a collaborative team environment was a process. Toolmakers are true artists, and the work they do is incredibly personal to them. Things have changed so much. It needs to be a team environment to be successful now.
When employees moved into the new building in 1999, it was such a huge space to grow into. I have memories of Dennis riding a Razor scooter around the shop because it was so vast. In 2017, we had been busting at the seams for years and started to ask ourselves, "What is next for MTD?" and the design of the expansion was born.
Q: What does the title change mean, both for the team at MTD and for those outside the company?
Hulecki: For me, nothing has changed. The title change makes sense. It reduces any confusion about how the company is being run and shows the company is strong, growing, and moving forward.
Q: MTD was recently named the No. 3 company in our 2022 PN Best Places to Work list. Employee relations are a core strength and something you've maintained even as you've grown rapidly and added new staff. Most molders these days have trouble attracting and retaining talented people. What is MTD doing right when it comes to employee relations?
Hulecki: It's not just one thing. MTD managers make it a priority to give employees freedom to do their job in the way that works best for them.
Employees feel heard and that they are able to raise their hand with concerns or questions. Every once in a while, I ask employees, "If you were me, what would you change?" They always take the question seriously and usually take some time to think about it. I always listen in.
We also do a lot of fun things as a company, from curling competitions to golf tournaments and lobster bakes.
We provide profit-sharing for employees and offer an amazing benefits package — we offer the best health care that money can buy. We know this is uncommon for a company our size, and we make it a priority to take care of our employees.
Q: People still ask about the ownership of MTD. Is Dennis' wife, Darlene Tully, the sole owner? Has anything changed?
Hulecki: MTD Micro Molding is owned by Darlene Tully.