Thomas Sullivan, 28
Engineering Manager, US Extruders Inc.
Thomas Sullivan graduated from Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He worked as an engineer for United Technologies Corp. and General Dynamics Electric Boat before joining US Extruders Inc. in 2020 as an engineering manager.
"My current job, engineering manager of US Extruders, is my first job in plastics. I joined because I thought an extruder itself was a very interesting product. It is a conceptually simple machine, but the implementation of creating the right extruder for a customer's process and facility can lead to some very complex and inventive solutions," he said.
Sullivan said it's important to realize when a company is not going to be a long-term fit.
"I enjoyed parts of my job at my first two companies, but I could tell that the culture of these companies was not what I wanted to build my life around," Sullivan said. "When I found US Extruders, I realized that this company was one that I could grow in. The position of engineering manager also was a large step up to me as it was my first professional management position, something that I have always seen as a path I wanted to take."
He said his greatest achievement is effectively working in his current position at the Westerly, R.I.-based manufacturer of custom single-screw extruders, where he is responsible for all engineering and service issues.
His current challenge is defining the best role for himself at US Extruders.
"As we grow and add employees, responsibilities are being shifted and it can be hard to determine exactly what area needs the most focus and where I can be the best contributor," he said.
One of the biggest obstacles during the pandemic is managing customer relations while struggling with supplier shortages: "Getting parts in is a constant battle and the situation changes every day."
Sullivan's mentor is his father, an engineer who owned an engineering company and is the reason Sullivan started along his career path.
"But more than that, he is the one who showed me what to value in life," Sullivan said. "He prioritized the important things such as how to treat everyone you meet with respect, how to work hard and that you will never regret doing the right thing, even if it is the hard thing. The other thing he always told me is 'play to win.' He always told me that he would rather see me take a risk and fail than not go for an opportunity because I was playing 'not to lose.'"
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Sullivan: We need to raise awareness of plastic and STEM careers in general to people of all races and genders. Plastic is not a visible career path to many, and there are many misconceptions about it, which limits the interest of people. Education about the opportunities that are available and the ways we are working to make plastics more sustainable will make plastics more desirable and increase the options to introduce diverse employment opportunities.
Q: What is your philosophy related to plastics and sustainability? What steps have you taken to improve plastics' sustainability, either in work, your community or personal life?
Sullivan: Sustainability in plastics is definitely a goal we should all be working towards, and I knew that the best place to make an impact was in a plastics company. US Extruders has helped in plastics sustainability in multiple ways. The first is in making extruders that use recycled materials. We have also built an R&D extruder to keep at our facility and are looking to develop screws for environmentally friendly materials.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Sullivan: I aspire to be the head of US Extruders. This is the company that I want to spend my whole career with. We have a fantastic team that spans generations, and I am so excited to see what the future holds for us.