Meet the MD: Gareth Thomas, Icon Plastics

With an impressive career history of helping to turn around failing businesses, Gareth Thomas has make Icon Plastics into an expanding, profitable firm. We find out a little more about how he came to have this particular set of skills, how he works with others, and his pet workplace hate.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I, with the support of my Operations Director Phil Walker, work on the strategic direction of the business including keeping an eye on the finances, securing new contracts, ensuring that orders are delivered on time, in an efficient manner, to the highest of standards and that overall we meet, or exceed, customers’ expectations. I also travel to meet potential new clients and attend trade shows to help drive the company’s growth.

What is it the company does?

Icon Plastics is a precision injection moulding company based on Durham Lane Industrial Estate, Eaglescliffe. It offers full turnkey solutions and its services include developing new product ideas, protyping and product design and manufacture. It has customers in a range of sectors including electronics, agricultural, healthcare and medical, construction, defence and automotive,

What do you believe makes a great leader?

They need to be honest, lead by example, take in the bigger picture, and have the ability to inspire others.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

The chance to take over loss-making Icon in in 2008 has been both my biggest opportunity and challenge.  At the time there were eight staff, who only were working a three day week.  Today Icon is profitable, employees numbers have increased to 38, and are still growing, and we operate 24 hours a day five days a week. In the last year, Icon has moved into bigger premises with room for expansion and there has been £1.5m worth of investment in the business.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Cycling – both along local roads and further afield into the beautiful countryside that surrounds the Teesside area. It is a great way of totally switching-off.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A soldier

Any pet hates in the workplace?

Untidiness.  I believe that there is a place for everything and everything has a place. A well-kept organised factory floorworkspace is something that is instilled into everyone who works at Icon.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

Twice the size it is now, more well-known, and with an expanded marketplace from both a geographical and industrial sector point of view.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Work hard, stay focused and don’t give up.

Where did you start your career?

I started my career at a YTS trainee at Elta Plastics on Teesside as I wanted to get a trade.  Not long after I started I was offered a full-time apprenticeship as a quality engineer and later moved into the production and development division.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far.

I joined Mitre Plastics in Stockton in 1993 where I spearheaded the opening of a new site – this is where I received an ‘all-round’ training

I then moved to Suffolk to work as a shift manager for Avent Baby Products (now part of tech giant Philips) and progressed through the ranks to manufacturing manager, helping to generate 30% year-on-year growth at the firm. I returned to the North-east to run a factory for Stadium Plastics before joining US-owned plastic fasteners maker ITW Fastex, where I became MD of the firm’s UK division and at 29 was the firm’s youngest European MD.

It was at ITW where I started to hone my skills as a company turnaround specialist.  I was given six months to change the division’s fortunes and I had to weed out inefficiencies and plug skills gaps. I oversaw the UK business becoming a £12m operation before performing similar turnaround operations at a plastics injection moulding firm and an animal husbandry kit maker.