New CEO wants to turn Proto Labs into a $1 billion company

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 12, 2014 - 5:49 PM
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Proto Labs CEO Vicki Holt presided over the April open house of the company’s new $15 million plant in Plymouth.

Photo: Bruce Bisping • bbisping@startribune.com,

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Proto Labs CEO Vicki Holt doesn’t sit still.

In her first 11 weeks on the job, she negotiated an acquisition, opened a factory, started two production lines and relocated 175 workers from the company’s Maple Plain headquarters to Plymouth.

She also moved herself from St. Louis to the Twin Cities.

“She’s definitely high-energy,” said previous CEO Brad Cleveland, who helped bring the former Monsanto Co. and PPG Industries executive to Proto Labs in February. “And her smile and enthusiasm were just brilliant. We were very attracted to that because energy is almost a prerequisite for the job.”

Holt, 56, a Duke University-trained chemist and once a competitive swimmer, will need to stay powered up. Proto Labs — an injection-molding and milling manufacturer that caters to medical, auto and consumer industries — is on a mission to become a $1 billion company.

Already, Cleveland had lifted Proto Labs from a $1 million private firm to a publicly traded company with $163 million in sales. But “we had no clue how to get it to $1 billion. And that is where we are headed,” he said. “So the fact that Vicki had run companies of that scale is what really won the day for her.”

When her hire was announced in February, Proto Labs’ stock jumped 3.4 percent to $80.50 per share.

Today, Holt may still be unpacking at her new Twin Cities home, but she is raring to go at work.

“Do I believe that we can be a $1 billion company? Yes I do,” Holt said during a recent interview in her Maple Plain office. “This is a very strong company. … It’s just a beautiful financial model.”

In stalking the $1 billion prize, Holt won’t say when she’ll get there. But she will rely on growth strategies such as adding new manufacturing processes, customers and products. In her short time on the job, she’s already tackled each.

In April, she led Proto Labs into the steel and rubber injection molding business by adding two new production lines in Maple Plain. The company, best known for plastic injection molded products, also entered the fast-growing 3-D printing industry by buying Raleigh-based FineLine Prototyping Inc.

“I was impressed,” Cleveland said. “When she came on board, we had not negotiated a purchase agreement with FineLine in Raleigh. It was very competitive. But she got that deal done very efficiently. … And that is how you grow.”

But Holt insists that growth can’t rely solely on acquisitions. “Acquisitions are a tactic. Not a strategy,” she said.

Tested at Spartech

The job offer from Proto Labs came at a good time. Holt had just finished tackling her hardest job, turning around Spartech Corp., a $1.3 billion plastics sheeting and polymer maker that was sinking fast in 2010.

At the time, Holt was serving on Spartech’s board while also being the senior vice president of PPG Industries’ $1.7 billion glass and fiberglass division in Pittsburgh. There, she and her team had transformed PPG’s fiberglass supply chain, cut $50 million in costs and launched joint ventures in China and in Taiwan. But while PPG hummed along, things were falling apart at Spartech.

“We were close to violating bank covenants, and we had lost some key customers. So as a board member, you are sitting there looking at all this and saying, ‘Oh [expletive]!’ ” Holt recalled.

“The board offered me the CEO job [at Spartech]. … So I jumped in and took the job.”

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  • Holt, talking with silicon rubber injection mold specialist Rick Bigaouette, is known for seeking input from all corners. Under her leadership Proto Labs added new rubber and steel injection molding lines.

  • CEO Vicki Holt looked over equipment in Proto Labs’ injection molding area with specialist Rick Bigaouette.

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