Many Rising Stars joined the plastics industry during college as interns or post-college with their first full-time jobs. But for Thomas Schoen, 31, he started at age 12. He would work four-hour shifts at Aroplax Corp. during the summer, increasing his workload every following summer and "performing every job related to production throughout middle and high school," he said.
"It was somewhere in high school when the conversation about the future of the company and if I had interest in aligning my secondary education towards injection molding. From this point on, my journey has been centered around the plastics industry and taking over the family business," said Schoen, now president of the company.
Monticello, Minn.-based Aroplax offers mold design, material selection and injection molding solutions in industries such as consumer end products, agriculture, automotive, electronic, medical and OEMs.
"My greatest achievement at this point is the purchase of Aroplax and continuing to operate as the fourth generation. The percentage of family businesses that succeed to the next generation significantly decreases with each generation, and to be the fourth generation is an honor," he said. "It is my goal to continue to build Aroplax to provide the same opportunity to my children if they so choose."
Schoen has a bachelor's degree in composite materials engineering from Winona State University and an MBA from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. He is involved with the Society of Plastics Engineers' Upper Midwest section and the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Schoen: There is so much activity around automation the integrations of vision tools. This is an area that Aroplax has just scratched the surface on but is something that I believe will help us jump to the next level.
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?
Schoen: Plastics and sustainability is very important for all stakeholders. We have partnered recently with external recyclers to handling the reclaiming process to be sold directly on secondary markets. We also have multiple streams of recycling within our production processes, when products allow. I think the challenge for industry is the economics of sustainable plastics in comparison to traditionally derived polymers. For consumable applications, this is a must.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Schoen: The size of the industry being so large yet at the same time how close-knit and small [it] feels. The people within the industry are some of the best in the world, and there are genuinely some of the best leaders and business owners in the world. The challenges our industry has faced and continues to face with a negative public imagine is something the industry needs to continue to address and show the huge benefits to plastics given the alternatives. I see that as the largest challenge we all need to be focusing on in the coming years.