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CEO Spotlight: Continental Structural Plastics’ Steve Rooney

Steve Rooney is the chief executive officer of Continental Structural Plastics. MICHauto spoke with Rooney about his priorities and motivations as an automotive executive.

What is your number one priority as CEO?
My number one priority is to keep our people safe and healthy, along with protecting our environment. Along with that, today we are looking closely at ways that we can be more inclusive and diversified, especially in our middle and upper management positions.

Over the past several years, we have been working hard to shift Continental Structural Plastics’ culture to one that is focused specifically on implementing efficient, safe processes and procedures in all of our facilities. I want to be sure every employee goes home safely to his or her family at the end of every shift, every day. We are getting very near to achieving world-class safety performance company-wide, but I remain very steadfast in my commitment to achieving zero injuries, every day, in every facility.

When the pandemic hit, my number one priority was to be sure that our employees were safe and healthy. We were very proactive in establishing new safety policies and protocols for our facilities that would provide as safe of a working environment as possible. We introduced staggered schedules, implemented new work processes to ensure social distancing, enforced mask-wearing, and introduced regular cleaning, disinfecting, and even deep cleaning practices when needed. My COVID-19 Task Force has been monitoring the situation globally for more than a year now, and we continue to make localized adjustments as needed to protect our teams from the virus.

With regard to the environment, we are always looking for ways to make our operations as environmentally friendly as possible. We’re also looking at a full life cycle analysis of our products, and we’re investing in R&D to find the best, most efficient ways to recycle our thermoplastic materials. We’re especially interested in processes that allow us to capture and reuse the glass and the resins that are involved in compounding our composite materials.

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, I think it’s safe to say we’re just getting started, but I know it’s important and I’m encouraging my teams to keep making progress. I had my executive team go through the Executive Level Set training with CADIA a few months ago, and I think that really helped to open our eyes to why this is not only important but how it will absolutely benefit the organization as a whole as we bring more diverse perspectives to the table.

What would you tell young professionals about our automotive industry to keep them in Michigan?
I think young people don’t realize what an exciting and challenging industry this is. It is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace. It is no longer a business of just building cars. We are building mobility. Vehicles that are smart with a lot of technology involved. Propulsion systems are changing, and there’s real opportunity there. We’re moving toward an all-electric future, but have we really even perfected the EV battery, or charging? What other means of propulsion can we be looking at aside from pure electric?

All of this change means tremendous opportunity. There are opportunities for software engineers, mechanical engineers, chemists, electrical engineers, designers, people in marketing, sales, IT, HR, communications.  So many different skill sets are needed that there really is opportunity for everyone. The industry is ripe for new ideas. It is so different than it was 10 years ago. The opportunities to grow, learn, and expand your horizons have never been greater.

What advice do you have for the next generation?
You know, I give my kids advice all of the time, but I don’t know how much they’ve ever really listened. Now that they’re 35 and 37, they actually think I’m smart, but when they were in their 20s, they didn’t listen so much.

So, here’s my advice: the world is an ever-changing, dynamic place. It is critically important to stay up to date on what’s going on in the world, understand the changes taking place, and find good ways to be a positive influence in the areas that matter to you. In other words, how do you fit in and where can you provide real value to society, your company, and to those in your personal, inner circle?

It’s not always about money. It’s about being happy and providing value.

What is your favorite car and why?
My favorite car was a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible. It was turquoise blue, had mag wheels, and a three-speed floor shifter. I bought this car in 1976, spent a year fixing it up and drove it for a few years before I sold it. That was the first, really cool car I ever had.

I didn’t keep it because it was stolen while I was going to school in Boston. About three months later I got a call from the police to come pick it up from the impound lot. All the axles were snapped, and the wires pulled it out. It was a total loss. I couldn’t afford much in the way of insurance then, so I had to sell it. But it was a really cool car!