While studying mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut, Vanessa Malena held an internship at Wittmann Battenfeld with robotics in Torrington, Conn., where she became "hooked" on the industry.
"It was so interesting working with automation engineers from Austria and learning about the plastics industry," she said in her Women Breaking the Mold survey.
After studying at UConn, Malena received an Associate of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Naugatuck Valley Community College.
She also worked as a regional sales manager for injection molding machinery maker Arburg Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Arburg GmbH + Co. KG, and account manager for Gems Sensors and Controls, a global supplier of sensing and control solutions.
At Gems, Malena "did a management rotation learning all aspects of the business — sales, operations, marketing and engineering." She returned to plastics by joining injection molding machinery maker Engel Machinery Inc. as a key account manager, then director of sales, North American business unit manager for technical molding and teletronics.
"When I returned to the plastics industry by joining Engel, I was able to understand our customers better and be a better co-worker," she said. Malena is now the regional vice president of sales.
Like with most other companies, the coronavirus pandemic has changed how business is done. For Malena, COVID-19 has impacted travel restrictions.
"It has forced me and my team to relearn how we sell, present and build relationships," she said.
Malena said she would eventually like to lead the Engel North America team.
Jim Moran of Engel nominated Malena for Women Breaking the Mold.
Q: What is your personal "mold" that you are breaking?
Malena: I want other companies within our industry to understand that hard work and results should be the reason for advancement, not gender. Engel is a huge global company, and they saw my talent in a short time. Gender was not a factor. I want to show other companies that it is no longer an industry of just men.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Malena: It is a great industry with many advancements in technology, especially within the medical industry. I would suggest a person joining the industry to learn as much of the support businesses as possible. For example, if you join a mold maker company as a project manager, learn about machines, automation and materials so that you better understand how these influence your work.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Malena: If I were CEO, I would work with each department to better understand their process and hurdles. I would create cross-functional teams to advise how to improve these processes and/or eliminate hurdles that get in the way of progress.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Malena: Industry 4.0 technology, especially, the major differences between what U.S. companies and European companies see as important. A smart machine and smart service are critical for any plastic company's future.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Malena: This is tough. Mark Sankovitch, Engel's CEO, is definitely top of the list. He is a great leader, and his team respects him. He is not leading from a corner office; he is in the trenches with his team. My other mentors are the other VP's at Engel. We all work very closely and rely on each other to do the best for our teams and our customers.