Having been in the plastics industry for her "whole life," Hillary Thomas feels she really started at age five when her father opened a new company in the basement of the family's home. She officially started working in the business at age 14, and started out doing filing, cleaning machines and floors, delivering products, and simple grinding operations before moving into a marketing position.
Thomas eventually left the family business to go to work abroad for an international company, where she helped grow and expand several branches of that company. Her experiences took her to Australia, Texas and Asia. She also was mentored by her boss at the company who advocated for her throughout her employment.
"My boss at the time pushed me to figure things out on my own while advocating my successes to the right people when it mattered," Thomas said.
Her first major accomplishment at Westminster Tool came within the first year she returned to working for the family's company in 2017. She restructured the sales and engineering team and undertook a major cross-training initiative for the entire company. Today, she serves as vice president of Westminster Tool, and has been responsible for leading major cultural and technical transformations for the injection mold-making business.
Since she came on board, sales have doubled, new business has flourished and Westminster Tool's reputation as a leader in the industry has grown immensely. What once was known as a traditional mold-making company has evolved into a comprehensive injection molding service provider with Thomas at the helm. The company now is known for offering extensive design support and troubleshooting for customers in addition to R&D and in-house mold qualification.
One of her latest initiatives was implementing 3D metal printing technology. Her forward-looking vision, paired with her risk-taking leadership style, allowed her to see huge potential in metal 3D printing for the injection molding industry.
"I grew up watching my dad take appropriate risks," Thomas said. "He had a calculated courage, and I learned from him. My boss at my first job also taught me the only way to advance was to put myself out there and get involved in solving issues."
Aside from her direct contribution to the business, Thomas is a role model and mentor for women in manufacturing. Using the women who have mentored her as inspiration, she sees encouraging young women to pursue careers in manufacturing as not only a privilege but a responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation. Her advocacy starts with mentoring the women at Westminster Tool, whose work force comprises about 40 percent women.
"Locally, we have become a place of choice to work," Thomas said. "I grew up in manufacturing and have personally found it to be highly rewarding. Today, not many young adults are exposed to or encouraged to work in manufacturing, especially females. I see women making a good wage in manufacturing."
Thomas is an active mentor in the FLiP Mentorship Program for future leaders in plastics, working one-on-one with a paired mentee on professional goals. Thomas also is the first and youngest woman to join the Board of Directors for the American Mold Builders Association, alongside executive leadership of injection mold building companies nationwide.
She has made a direct impact on Westminster Tool in numerous ways, but most notably her influence on company culture, new business, brand reputation and customer service has all made a major difference.
Today, she is motivated by her work but also by being a great mom to her daughter Addison. Her future includes continuing to build on her family's legacy.
"In the next phase of my career, I want to continue to build on what my dad has created in our company. A culture of inclusivity, accountability and fun. I want to give everyone a chance to find a meaningful career that fits into the life they want to live."
Years with company: Since 2017
Years in industry: Since five years old when my father started the company in the family's basement