The best advice Jay Kumar said he ever received was to leave his job on Wall Street to pursue a career in manufacturing. Kumar, who had been working as an options trader for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, didn’t hesitate.
He took the advice, which came from his father, Sunil Kumar, and left behind the Big Apple, bright city lights, towering skyscrapers and cutthroat core of the American finance sector for a new career in — one word — plastics.
Today, the 39-year-old is CEO of Universal Plastics Group, an entity formed in late 2017 in response to a chain of acquisitions that began in 2012. That’s when Kumar and his father bought Universal Plastics Corp., an industrial thermoformer in Holyoke, Mass., where Kumar served as president, marking his first foray into manufacturing as well as plastics.
“It was exciting, and it was daunting because there are many aspects of the job that I didn’t understand, that I never had exposure to,” Kumar said in a phone interview. “But you sit down, and you just kind of figure it out. You learn from the people around you.”
Later that year, in 2012, Kumar bought out his father, who was looking to retire. But unlike his son, Sunil Kumar is no stranger to being at the helm of manufacturing companies. He previously worked as president and CEO of chemicals supplier International Specialty Products Inc. and roofing products maker GAF Materials Corp. The serial executive and businessman also co-owns Nylon Corp. of America, a Manchester, N.H.-based nylon resin maker and compounder he bought in 2013 with his daughter, Monica.
While Sunil Kumar has yet to fully retire, his son said he does play a lot more golf now than in the past. Jay Kumar also called his father, whom he considers a mentor, an “incredible force.”
“He grew several manufacturing firms through the ’80s and the ’90s when foreign competition was taking hold and eating America’s lunch. … And while he was doing this, he was always home at 5 o’clock to have dinner with us and to play catch with us,” Kumar recalled. “That’s the model of my life that I aspire to.”
A ‘one-stop shop’ supplier
For Kumar, the acquisition hustle continued in 2013 when Universal Plastics bought another thermoformer — this time Mayfield Plastics Inc. in Sutton, Mass.
In 2017, he expanded Universal Plastics’ processing capabilities with the purchase of Sajar Plastics LLC, a large-part injection molder in Middlefield, Ohio, specializing in gas-assist injection molding. Later that year, in December, the company added the fourth member to its group of plastics processing companies: Premium Plastic Solutions LLC, a custom blow molder in Latrobe, Pa.
The move led to the formation of the Universal Plastics Group, where Kumar’s wife, Pia, serves as chief strategy officer.
Most recently, Universal Plastics purchased custom thermoformer W. Kintz Plastics Inc. in Howes Cave, N.Y. The addition of a third thermoformer led to a consolidation of the group’s thermoforming division, which now consists of Universal Plastics Corp. and its two other locations: Universal Plastics Albany (formerly W. Kintz Plastics) and Universal Plastics Sutton (formerly Mayfield Plastics).
In a June 2018 interview with Plastics News, Pia Kumar said the group’s acquisition activity is partly strategic and partly opportunistic, describing each member company as one piece of a broader puzzle that, once put together, forms a “one-stop shop supplier.”
Jay Kumar described the strategy in a similar way in June, stating the group’s goal “is to be, in every space that we enter, the preeminent supplier in that specific space.”
“It was a fun challenge from the beginning. It’s still a fun challenge today as we’re integrating all these businesses,” Kumar said in a recent phone interview. “And I look forward to the fun challenges we’re going to have in the future.”
Today, the husband-wife duo is steadily navigating through the integration process of its recent acquisitions while making time for their three children and a 7-year-old shar-pei.
Kumar, who starts his day at 5 a.m., acknowledged that there “isn’t much unwinding” at his full house, but he said he tries to squeeze in time to watch cartoons like Cartoon Network’s “Rick and Morty.”
But his favorite part about being CEO of a plastics processing group?
“The complexity of the problems that I get to work on and the fact that I can create a vision and, if I do it right, I can see that vision come to fruition,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything about what I do now in plastics that I dislike. I have not had a single day when I came into work and I was unhappy. Not once.”
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