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Jay Kumar Universal Plastics

Kumar works to build a business that remains a family

Holyoke, Mass. — Integration is front of mind for Jay Kumar these days. You see, the CEO of Universal Plastics Group has completed three acquisitions in the last two years. That’s five, overall, since the company’s founding in 2012.

Finding strategic fits for Kumar’s growth plans excite this 40-year-old executive, but fitting five companies into a cohesive unit is a big lift.

“This integration has been, by far, the most challenging part of [the acquisitions],” he said. “I did not expect that. The complexity went up exponentially. They say when you have kids, two is man-to-man defense and three is zone defense. So, I feel like we’re playing zone defense.”

To that end, Kumar has physically gathered five key staffers, including Chief Strategy Officer Pia Kumar (also his wife), in a separate building in Holyoke to work on the big picture. That work includes finding CRM, sales, data management and informational flow solutions for what is now a $70 million business.

“The purpose of this building is to help us integrate the facilities we’ve acquired and the facilities we intend to acquire in the future. So, we’re able to focus on the overall business not just singular divisions,” he said.

The integration workload is difficult. But Kumar has a vision: Offer customers a one-stop shop for plastics processing with an expertise that now includes thermoforming, blow molding and injection molding with facilities in Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Each site is running fairly autonomously, but we’re integrating where it makes sense,” said Kumar, who identified aerospace, medical and industrial markets as prime ones for Universal Plastics.

Does Kumar remain bullish on each business unit despite the work in front of him?

“In all of our businesses, I see a path for significant growth. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t,” said Kumar, who sees the integration completed by the end of 2019. That would open the doors for additional purchases.

“Once we get that done, we’ll be able to absorb companies more easily,” said Kumar, whose only requirement for future purchases is companies that are good at what they do.

“We’d love to be on the West Coast and the Southeast, Southwest, the Midwest,” he said.

The benefits of Universal’s acquisition mode are many, too.

“We view ourselves a family business,” he said. “To bring more employees into our family and see the appreciation in their eyes is really rewarding.”

Kumar is proud that no one from an acquired company has lost a job because of his company’s purchase.

“But the synergies in terms of people starting to work together and ideas getting shared, even ideas of how to make things — hey, this is how we paint parts or this is how we rivet screws — there was that. The synergies with the customers were even greater than we even realized. The customers really started to get excited about what we had when we would go and talk to them.”

In trying to build a culture, Kumar wants to encourage prudent risk taking.

“As a business, we’ve never been upset when someone said, ‘Hey, I tried this. It didn’t work out.’ We want to encourage that. It’s easy for companies to stifle that, especially as they grow. We’re trying to find that balance, so culture matters a lot,” he said.

Kumar wants his employees to know he and his wife are in this for the long haul.

“This is not a flip. This is a not a rollup. We’re not trying to sell. We have no plans like that at all. We tell employees, ‘My wife and I are pretty young. We have a long time ahead of us.'”

Kumar left a job on Wall Street at the beginning of this decade to buy Universal. Looking back, is he glad he landed in a business he had no intention of being in?

“Plastics is ubiquitous. It’s used in everything. If you look at our desk, everything here has plastics in it. That’s the part that’s the most exciting. Maybe 1,000 years from now, when people look upon us, this might be the Plastics Age. You’ve had the Bronze Age, the Iron Age. This could be the Plastics Age.”

So, what keeps this CEO, entrepreneur, husband and father of three up at night?

“Integration is keeping me up at night. That’s today’s problem. Tomorrow’s problem is if the macroeconomic picture is so volatile with the tariffs, the interest rates, the fact that we have been in a boom market for 10 years, if that turns, we will be nimble enough to handle that turn if it happens? The third thing is if we are in a secular decline in manufacturing globally. Software is taking away so many specialized machines, many which we don’t recognize or know about. That is my long-term concern, a generational concern. But I’ll be dead and my kids will figure that out.”

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