One on One: Jay Kumar, president and owner, Universal Plastics, Holyoke, and Mayfield Plastics, Sutton
Jay Kumar, president of Universal Plastics, Sutton. Photo/John Happel
Jay Kumar spent a decade on Wall Street as a proprietary trader for J.P. Morgan Chase until he and his father, Sunil Kumar, purchased Universal Plastics, a custom thermoforming company in Holyoke in 2012. The following year, after buying out his father, Mr. Kumar acquired Mayfield Plastics in Sutton. The plastics manufacturers design and make parts for the medical device industry, including items used in X-ray equipment, CT scan machines, bone density scanners, MRI machines and lasers. Other products include medical carts, dental equipment and clamshell containers for patients’ belongings, first aid kits and syringe trays. Mr. Kumar received undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering from Cornell University. A total of 130 employees work at the two shops, with Mayfield employing 30 people and Universal, 100.

Why did you leave the financial world behind and how did you acquire these manufacturing companies?

“I was ready to do something else with my life. My father and I discussed small-business ownership. He had just retired from his career working in manufacturing. Together, we bought Universal Plastics in Holyoke. Then I bought him out. In 2013, I was approached by Mayfield Plastics…looking to sell. I was very eager to buy it because we were direct competitors. They were fierce, strong competitors in the industry. I thought the two companies together would be a juggernaut in the work that we do. I left finance because I wasn’t really excited by it anymore or really enjoying it. The idea of small-business ownership always intrigued me. I felt like there would be a lot of interesting things to do. Having 100 percent ownership in what you are trying to do and accomplish is very exciting as well. Knowing that the buck stops with you on so many different levels is something that really appealed to me.”

You’ve been recognized as a leading businessman, making BusinessWest’s “40 under 40” list. What do you think are the qualities of a good entrepreneur?

“I’m speaking as someone who is younger and less experienced in the industry… It would be someone who recognizes that they are not the expert in everything that they are doing and that they have a team of good people who are experts. I would say a good entrepreneur would recognize his/her limitations and also recognize what values they can bring to a business that would be unique for that industry. In my case, my financial background has provided a lot of insight as to how we can manage our finances directly, but also our customer relationships, and how we manage our processes.”

What is your definition of success?

“I would like to see both businesses continue to grow at a healthy rate. Fortunately, they have been… I would like to see us become stronger and stronger as a platform and become a market leader in plastics.”

Could you briefly describe what thermoforming entails?

“It’s a form of plastics processing, which is making parts out of plastic, whether it be a pen or a cover for a computer or a bumper for a car. Thermoforming is one way that you can make parts. It involves taking sheets of plastic, heating them in an oven and sucking them, pushing them or draping them over a mold to create the form that you ultimately want. Then, its advantages are that you can make very large parts and you can make very low volume parts. If you need 100 parts of something, like specialized panels for a computer, thermoforming would be a very good solution.”

Although you cater to the medical device industry, what other industries do you serve?

“We also service aerospace industry, and we do a lot of what we call industrial, which would be companies making random products like exercise machines, cookie trays, trays for other manufacturing facilities, covers for radio antennas and stuff like that. Most of what we do for the medical side of things would be covers and panels for large machines to cover the electronics on X-ray machines, CT scan machines, etc.”

Mayfield Plastics was involved with Sutton Middle School kids for the AMP! It Up Challenge (a video contest that the students won.) Can you describe your outreach efforts?

“We’re very much into workforce development and do a lot of work in trying to promote manufacturing in the high school and middle school communities. We have a lot of kids from schools come to us to see what manufacturing is. It’s amazing to see that many of them have never been to a factory before. Personally, I wish I had that exposure when I was younger. I didn’t realize how much manufacturing is done in the U.S. The press does not do a great job of highlighting the manufacturing in the U.S. They talk about everything being made in China. But a lot of buildings when you drive around (here) are manufacturing goods. Many of the goods you would think are being made in China, but they are not.

“We sponsor scholarships at some of the local community colleges, especially in Springfield, but we’re going to start doing that in the Worcester area as well, to encourage people to come into manufacturing. I think it is a great career path and one that is quite stable and there’s a lot of future in it for people. And it’s incredibly satisfying. Having been on the side where you push paper around and then on the side where you push plastics around, plastics are a lot more fun and rewarding.”

What is the advantage of buying your direct competitor?

“The companies can do the same thing, but have their own legacy cultures. They provide good redundancy. The bigger we are, the more scale we can get. Then, we can provide better pricing for customers. The reason is there’s a certain size when you are small that it is hard to keep a certain number of engineers and toolmakers on staff. Being bigger, we can have more people. We can afford to have an X-ray engineer that either facility on its own could not have full time. The bigger we get, up to a point, the better off we are. We’re not so big that we lose the family business touch and the personalization that comes along with that. There’s a balance to strike and we’re approaching that sweet spot of balance.”

July 26. 2015 6:00AM

Compiled by correspondent Susan Gonsalves

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