Wanted: New CEO to Run Growing Company

In August of 2001, while paging through the Sunday newspaper, I came across a small, black-and-white print ad placed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune classified section. The employment ad was seeking a CEO for a growing rapid injection-molding manufacturer called The Protomold Company. Intrigued, I answered the ad placed by the company’s founder, Larry Lukis. A few months later, I joined his team of 10 employees and my tenure as President and CEO began.

Fast forward 12 years to a company that now employs 730 people in the United States, Europe and Japan and serves a global market of more than 7,000 product developers and engineers. During that time, we’ve added a CNC-machining service, manufactured millions of plastic and metal parts, changed our name to Proto Labs and took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange.

As I look back to that classified ad, it described Protomold as a million dollar company with an immediate available opportunity of $150 million. Proto Labs’ projected revenue for 2013 is expected to very likely eclipse the $150 million mark. The company has never been in better shape, and its future has never looked brighter, so it might have seemed strange to our board of directors when I recently announced that it was time for me to leave Proto Labs.

Whereas Larry was the starter and I was the organizer, we now need a builder to take Proto Labs from a $150 million to $1 billion company. And like Larry did before me, I now place my own employment ad of sorts seeking a new CEO who can take Proto Labs to the next level.

We’re looking for someone with the expertise and background to guide a world-class management team and motivated staff into the future as Proto Labs continues to grow. They should have the experience of growing a company to the $1 billion level or beyond, and be knowledgeable and passionate about systems, processes and procedures. They should know how to motivate a team to tackle complex challenges. Recognizing the fact that sometimes the best idea isn’t their own is critical. Candidates should also be proactive, self-starters who have strong communication skills, demonstrate financial aptitude and are almost obsessive in their responsiveness, since this has become standard operating procedure at Proto Labs.

Finding a new CEO will be a lengthy process and a thorough search is well underway. My plan is to remain with the company throughout that entire process. If you think you are the person to lead Proto Labs, please contact Bo Herbst at PLCEO@heidrick.com.

Brad Cleveland, President and CEO
Proto Labs, Inc.

Medical Design & Manufacturing Expo: A Newcomer’s Perspective

I entered the bustling halls of the Minneapolis Convention Center in search of my first Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) Expo, a two-day event that brings medical device developers, part manufacturers, suppliers, packagers and others together to promote their capabilities and network with one another.

With an espresso firmly in hand, I made my way onto the convention floor, a wide-eyed virgin to manufacturing trade shows. Sure, I’ve been to car, truck and boat shows before, but never an industry trade show. Gone were bikini-clad models pitching luxury cars, replaced with automated robots offering Reese’s Pieces Halloween treats. Being a fan of both candy and robots, especially when paired together, my attention was immediately captured. Continue reading

Magnesium Rush

My husband and I recently went to dinner and a movie for our 10th wedding anniversary. We chose “Rush,” which is not necessarily a romantic movie, but it’s directed by Ron Howard, who I love. I was pleasantly surprised that even in 1976 mechanics were using magnesium as a material to help lessen the weight of their cars. My husband called me a nerd after I went on a long tangent about how fascinating this bit of information was. Continue reading

Visit Proto Labs on Manufacturing Day

Pirates get a day. Bacon gets a day (as it should). Even mathematicians celebrate 3.14 with Pi Day. But today! Today manufacturers get their day. Manufacturing Day is a coordinated effort by manufacturers to open their doors to customers so they can see what manufacturing is, and what it isn’t, by explaining processes and dispelling misconceptions about the industry.

So on this day dedicated to manufacturing, we lay out our virtual welcome mat and invite you to take a digital tour of our comprehensive website for a glimpse inside Proto Labs and its services.

We have four online tours filled with info, photos and video of our two services (Protomold and Firstcut), our global presence and the technology we use to make it all happen. Before you enter our humble abode, here’s a primer:

  • Protomold. Our injection molding service offers customers affordable parts, and fast. How fast? Up to one business day in some instances. There are hundreds of resins options that can be molded in quantities ranging from 10 to 10,000 parts.
  • Firstcut. Our CNC machining service blends proprietary analysis and programing software to bring real parts to our customers. If you’re looking for a small run of prototype parts, fixtures, jigs or one-off projects without having to invest in traditional tooling, Firstcut can quickly deliver what you need.
  • Global Presence. We began in 1999 specializing in rapid-turn manufacturing of custom plastic injection molded parts. We’ve since expanded to full-scale facilities in England and Japan to help service our international customer base.
  • Technology. Learn how our cutting-edge, internally-developed software running on a giant computer cluster has automated many manual molding and machining processes to bring customers quality parts really fast.
  •  Extras. In addition to the virtual tours, our site is filled with a wealth of useful information including material options, design and machining tips, future tradeshows we’ll be at and a lot more.

Our door is open 24 hours a day and you never have to remove your shoes. Ready to visit Proto Labs? Right this way: www.protolabs.com/tour.

There’s a Right Time to “Lay Down” on the Job


Imagine that you’re molding a simple straight-sided cup. The traditional approach is to make it in a two-part mold, with the A-side forming the outside of the cup and the B-side forming the inside. As long as both sides are suitably drafted to facilitate ejection, it’s all very simple. But add a C-handle, and it gets a little more complicated. Because the handle acts as an undercut, you’ll lay the cup on its side, form the outside with A- and B-side mold halves meeting at the handle, and use a side-action to form the inside. Continue reading