Karen Bouchard has a long career in the plastics industry. She was hired as a quality technician at Alphagary, formerly Mexichem Specialty Compounds, at age 22. She spent 15 years there, where she also held positions as PVC color matcher and color lab manager.
Following her time at Alphagary, she joined Newline Color Inc. as its lead color matcher for three years. Bouchard has been with color concentrates maker Chroma Color Corp. in Leominster, Mass., for the last 18 years.
"Here is where I developed my career because I work with a wide variety of specialty resins and pigments. Currently, I oversee seven quality control technicians, with two women on the team," the laboratory quality manager said in her Women Breaking the Mold survey.
When she started in 1984, there were only men working in the lab.
"I was the first woman hired as quality control tech, first-ever promoted to a lead color matcher role and then first as a color lab manager. Today it is exciting to look around and see other women in our organization and our customers," she said.
Bouchard said after being in the industry for 35 years, she still learns something about a new resin or color every day.
"Growing up in Leominster, Mass., the birthplace of plastics and a pink flamingo, plastics ended up touching all of our lives. My keen interest in plastics started when Alphagary (Mexichem) gave a young woman, like me, the chance to grow, learn and make a decent living," she said. "My interest in plastics has not changed. Working in a plastics concentrate color lab is still very interesting and rewarding."
Bouchard was nominated by Brian Schmaltz, Chroma Color plant manager in Leominster.
Q: Greatest achievement?
Bouchard: When I look back to 2004 after my husband's death when I suddenly became a single mom, trying to raise two girls while at the same time manage a career in the plastics industry, I get this deep sense of pride. Even today, as the primary caregiver for my grandson Kaiden and still working as a manager at Chroma Color, I feel terrific and proud.
What has made me incredibly proud is watching my daughter Kori build her career in plastics. Ten years ago, while she was 16 and still in high school, she started working at Chroma Color. Since then, she has moved up and now is an essential member of our customer service team. I am also proud of my two sisters that had 25+ years of a career in plastics.
Can I take all the credit for these other women's careers in plastics? No, but I believe because I was willing to go into a male-dominated business and give it a go, most likely, it made them less afraid to do the same.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Bouchard: Again, I can't say it enough: The plastics industry is a great place to grow and make a good living. But you must be willing to start anywhere and work hard. If you do, you will have a great career.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Bouchard: For any company to compete today, you need the newest technology. I would spend the money to upgrade color labs with the best technology, like we've done at our Chroma Color facilities. I would also make sure I promoted people within the organization before going outside for help because they understand the business.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Bouchard: We are in the process of going from a "paper" to "digital" company. It took some time for all of us to get used to these new processes. But I am very proud of how my team and I tackled the challenge of learning the latest software. Today, we are all a lot more comfortable with the digital world and understand the real benefits of making the changeover.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Bouchard: I am delighted Les Skirvin at Alphagary (Mexichem) was willing to hire his first woman. For the chance he gave me that I will always be grateful. Later on, Les and Sam Stacey at Alphagary (Mexichem) were willing to take another chance on me and moved me into the color lab. I have been happy in a color lab ever since.