Martin Stark: An Advocate of the Plastics Industry and a Believer in Education
With a strong belief in the importance of education, Martin Stark has pushed for many quality apprenticeships programs in the plastics industry. This year, he earned a place in the Plastics Hall of Fame.
Martin Stark has been active in many aspects of plastics. As chairman of Bekum America Corp., he has continuously strived to promote excellence, providing innovation in process, customer experience and quality. His lifetime devotion to education has resulted in the establishment and support of many quality programs, from apprenticeships through graduate education in plastics.
He and his family came from Germany to Chicago in April of 1969. “My brother was already in the United States and I began working a night shift at his bakery, and taking English classes during the day. After five months I found a job at Battenfeld, an injection molding machine company, where I quickly moved up the ladder. In 1979, Battenfeld purchased Gloucester Engineering and moved their operation to Rhode Island. I did not want to move that far away from Chicago, where we had family and friends. At the same time, Bekum purchased a facility in Williamston, Michigan, and they were looking for people to run their operation in the United States. It was a perfect fit for me and turned out to be the best career move I ever made,” he says.
“I was fortunate to have several mentors who had a profound impact on my career. The mentor who stood by my side and supported me at Bekum America was Gottfried Mehnert, the founder of Bekum. He trusted me in all decisions, including implementing a profit-sharing program that I started in 1989. My personal philosophy is that people make the difference and you can’t succeed without a good and happy employee workforce.”
Early in his career, he also mentioned two mentors at Battenfeld: Constance Flindt, former president, and Bob Lemke, former vice president. “They supported me both on a professional and on a personal level. After my third child was born and they learned that I wanted to buy a house, Mrs. Flindt offered to lend me money for the down payment, interest-free. You just don’t see these kinds of relationships in the corporate world anymore,” he says.
Among his achievements, he is perhaps most proud of the apprenticeship program he created. “It is an accredited 8,000-hour program, where the company pays the apprentices’ entire college tuition in a work-study program that has been recognized nationwide. More than 40% of our manufacturing workforce comes from the apprenticeship program. In the future, would like us to develop new apprenticeship programs with a focus on specific technologies that will help us advance even further in the industry,” he states.