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.”
“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?