PART 1: Techmer PM’s Founder has an aversion to risk aversion
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series based on an interview with the Founder, Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Techmer PM, a company with a significant presence in Clinton.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Two personal priorities – a strong focus on technology and a willingness to take risks – have driven John Manuck as he has led the growth of Techmer PM, LLC, a multi-location technology company that has its largest plant and many of its business operations in Clinton.
“We’re a material design company that works in polymers,” the Founder, Chair and Chief Executive Officer says in describing the company he founded in 1981. It’s also a description that has evolved over 25 years, but an easy way to get others to ask for more information.
Manuck is a soft-spoken, smiling, and engaging executive who says Techmer PM is where it is today thanks to his willingness to take chances and forge partnerships.
“I graduated as an engineer, went to work for a big company, and decided I could do it better.”
That philosophy and unabated drive earned Manuck entry into the “Crain 100,” a listing of the top “innovators, disruptors, and change-makers in business” that was published in late 2016 by Crain Communications. The latter company is a publisher of leading industry publications like Advertising Age, Automotive News, Plastics News, and Modern Healthcare.
In Manuck’s case, the recognition among notables such as Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, and Craig Venter validates a lifelong journey personified by the innovative technology company he founded more than 35 years ago.
Today, Techmer PM (the first name based on combining parts of the words “technology” and “polymer”) has six manufacturing locations and about 650 employees. Local readers of teknovation.biz may recall the January 9, 2015, visit to the Clinton plant by then President Barack Obama and then Vice President Joe Biden to announce the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a public-private partnership better known as IACMI.
The event was another validation of Manuck’s vision for embracing technology and risk. Techmer PM created a unique carbon fiber-based formula to help meet Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s goal of building a 3-D printing system that was 200 to 500 times faster as well as being able to print components ten times larger than what was previously possible. The Techmer PM contributions were clearly visible in the body of the fully functioning Shelby Cobra displayed here.
For Manuck, the professional journey started on the streets of his native Brooklyn, NY. After earning an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, he went to work for Monsanto at a plant in Massachusetts. The inquisitive and driven engineer devoted his evenings to earning a Master’s Degree in Management Science. After his second college graduation, Manuck moved to Michigan where an experience with dunnage trays changed his career path.
“A GM (General Motors) executive asked why we couldn’t reuse the trays,” Manuck explained of the customized packaging used to load and secure cargo during transportation. In this instance, it was automotive parts being shipped during an era when models changed almost annually, necessitating newly designed dunnage trays every year.
“I thought it was a pretty big deal,” Manuck says of the GM executive’s cost saving and environmentally friendly idea. “I knew it was easy to recycle them, so I wrote it up and submitted to my management.”
After waiting for weeks and hearing nothing, Manuck asked his supervisor. The response was telling and disturbing to the young engineer.
“No one in headquarters is going to stick his name on this,” Manuck was told. “It would be a career ender.”
That corporate risk aversion was something the scrappy engineer could not accept, so he left the corporate world and moved to California where he joined a small manufacturing company that was committed to his philosophy of driving business growth by embracing entrepreneurship and taking risks. This is where he was introduced to the plastics compounding business where custom formulas of colorants and other additives are combined.
NEXT: The willingness to follow his instincts about technology and take a risk led to the founding of Techmer PM.