Jenn Bender, 30
Director of Operations
Jenn Bender is a third-generation worker at custom injection molder Falcon Plastics in Brookings, S.D. Her grandparents, Don and Carol Bender, founded Falcon in 1975 and both died within a month of each other in early 2020. "They left an admirable legacy," Jenn Bender said.
Bender graduated with a bachelor's degree in entrepreneurial studies and a minor in marketing, economics and business from South Dakota State University.
She started working at Falcon right out of high school and has held various positions at the company, including assembly operator, sales and marketing coordinator, production manager, plant manager and now director of operations. Bender has also worked as a data analyst for consulting firm Harbour Results Inc. and owner and operating manager for Arctic Ice, which specializes in nontoxic cooler packs.
"I remained interested in manufacturing due to the daily opportunities to problem solve and find efficiencies. I have preferred my roles in operations as I am able to impact production and drive efficiencies on the plant floor," she said. "I am a very data-driven individual and like to use data to inform and drive decisions, which has led me to the position I am in today."
Bender belongs to the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Professionals, MAPP Young Professionals, Leadership Brookings, South Dakota Manufacturing, and Boys and Girls Club of America as an advisory board member.
Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of Southfield, Mich.-based Harbour Results, nominated Bender for Rising Stars.
Plastics News: What is your greatest achievement?
Bender: My greatest achievement has been getting to where I'm at in my career. I have a lot of drive and I am always pushing myself to do better and continue to learn and grow. Each new role I have been asked take on, or presented the opportunity of, I have done so wholeheartedly. I am always open to taking on new challenges as I feel I grow the most outside of my comfort zone. When I look at the support and backing I have internally at Falcon Plastics, it tells me that I have performed with integrity and acted on my morals every step of my growth. I think that's something to be proud of.
Q: Biggest failure and what it taught you?
Bender: I have had a lot of failures over the years but I prefer to view them as opportunities to learn and grow. My biggest hurdle I have had to get past is being a third-generation family member in the business. Growing up in a business is hard because everyone gets to watch you go through every phase of life, including your failures and successes, and one day that same team has to look at you as a trusted leader. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform above and beyond expectations to combat the assumption of nepotism. Internally at Falcon Plastics I have gained a lot of respect over the years by working hard and not acting entitled, but it's still something I am very self-conscious about.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Bender: Working for Harbour Results exposed me to a lot of tool shops. When you build a mold, each project is unique and you have one chance to cut the steel. The mold building industry is far more advanced when it comes to planning and project launch than those in the plastics industry. I believe there is a lot to be learned from mold shops on launching products into a plastics manufacturing facility. The more you can be prepared and set an injection mold up for success during the launch process, the better and more repeatable your process will be each time you run that mold.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Bender: The best advice I ever received was to get outside of your comfort zone because that's where you grow most. I have always tried to say yes to every opportunity in my career that would help me grow or learn. I think viewing opportunities in that way has helped me through the anxiety of taking on large tasks or change. I always have a voice in the back of my head that says, "What if you fail?" but that advice helps me view new opportunities as a pathway to knowledge and growth rather than a success or failure.