Respect your elders and those who came before you. — One of the better pieces of advice I have received. Since childhood I have been taught about respect and learning from those who have “been there before” and I truly believe it is one of the biggest reasons why I am where I am today professionally.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Piotrowski.
Matthew Piotrowski is a Product Manager for the SHOWA Group, one of the world’s leading producers of hand protection products. Mr. Piotrowski is a 20-year veteran in the glove industry, spending nearly his entire adult life engaged in the hand protection business in many different roles and fashions. A native of Buffalo New York, Matthew is also currently the President of the International Glove Association, is a voting member on several ASTM committees and sub-committees revolving around textiles and hand protection, has received industry awards for glove design and innovation and has published several articles in leading Personal Protective Equipment industry magazines.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was born in Chicago, Illinois and moved to Buffalo, New York when I was a child. I have called Buffalo home now for 35+ years. My first job out of college was working on the loading docks for a local glove company and here I am 20 years later still doing work with four fingers and a thumb!
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Every year, 300 billion disposable PPE gloves are used in the United States. That’s an incredible figure that does not take into account the amount that has been used by hospitals, frontline workers and essential businesses throughout the pandemic. I’m sure most of us by now have walked down a street, or in a park, and noticed single-use PPE gloves and masks on the ground. This is obviously not how they are supposed to be discarded, and it is a problem.
SHOWA Group’s revolutionary Eco Best Technology (EBT) disrupts the traditional manufacturer construct for PPE gloves and puts the environment first. This eco-friendly material is designed to accelerate the biodegradation of nitrile gloves in biologically active landfills. Once these gloves have been disposed of inactive landfill sites, microorganisms excrete enzymes that break down the bonds of the nitrile polymer. Studies have shown these gloves can biodegrade up to 60–70% in just over a year.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting out, a few years after I got my first job in the glove industry, I was offered a promotion to a purchasing position where I was to be responsible for all of the raw material the plant needed to produce gloves every month. I had absolutely no purchasing experience, didn’t understand the process, and had no concept of what the job entailed, but I figured how hard can it be? In my first month in this position I nearly ran the plant out of several yarn needed to make gloves and we actually had to send people home a few days because there was no work for them. Luckily, management was kind enough to not terminate me immediately. I was put on to train with another employee for the next month to learn to ropes, and I got the hang of it and in time became quite good at it. Looking back on it now, it’s humorous to think how naïve I was at the time but it offered a good life lesson for me. Never assume you can do someone else’s job just because you think you are smart — be humble and never be afraid to ask for help.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have had several personal mentors throughout my career. People like Ed Mesanovic, Kerry Dyer, Greg Plemmons and my current boss Charles Miller — names that outside the glove industry may not be recognizable at all, however within our industry they are respected, well-known individuals. The most influential person in my professional career however would be Mr. Frank Stucke — former owner of Perfect Fit Glove Co. Frank took me under his wing and really became the catalyst for my love of the industry. In the years I worked with him, I had the privilege of learning this business from one of the most successful men in this industry but more so one of the most amazing persons I have ever known. I spent many years working almost every day from his office, sitting right next to him learning the ins and outs of running a company. He included me in everything from human resources matters, to accounting, to personnel, to manufacturing etc. He treated me like a son and I will never forget that. Without Frank, I would have never found my passion in my professional career.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Yes, I’d agree innovation that can drive market disruption is a net positive. In 1954, SHOWA developed the world’s first fully-coated Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) glove, which changed the hand protection industry. This invention set the standard for SHOWA’s willingness to explore how we can make better products for our users.
Innovation and disruption are key to an organization’s success. Failure to do so results in stagnation. SHOWA consistently invests in R&D to develop innovative, high-quality gloves that customers can rely on even in the most demanding and industry-specific environments. But sure, disruption can at times have unintended consequences that are not all good. For example, in our industry there is always going to be price disruption — manufacturers that see an opportunity to undercut prices in delivering PPE. Often those lower prices come at another “price” — inferior quality, questionable workforce practices or vulnerabilities when it comes to the supply chain. So lower prices may disrupt the competitive market, but the end result might not ultimately benefit the industry or end-users.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Respect your elders and those who came before you. — One of the better pieces of advice I have received. Since childhood I have been taught about respect and learning from those who have “been there before” and I truly believe it is one of the biggest reasons why I am where I am today professionally.
- Your life is your responsibility- needs no elaboration in my mind.
- Work hard and stay humble- You can never quit. It’s important to always offer gratitude when praised or rewarded, to remember that the world does not revolve around you and to never forget those who made sacrifices on your behalf for you to be where you are today.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We at SHOWA are constantly thinking up new product ideas and industry solutions. It’s in our company motto — “Always Innovating, Never Imitating”, with a big emphasis on the word always. With over 100 researchers in our company, we have some of the brightest minds in hand protection constantly dreaming up new ideas. Our company integration from concept, to raw materials, to manufacturing, to commercial product is second to no one. We will continue to be the industry leader in new innovative products that offer solutions to end-users that are performance and quality-focused to give their employees the best hand protection money can buy.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984. I remember reading this in my youth and being fascinated by the dystopian world he created. Now I find myself going back to the themes George presented throughout this novel and seeing some eerily similar situations playing out in today’s world, which only makes the book so much more worthy of a fourth or fifth read.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” -Benjamin Franklin — This is pretty much the most general synopsis of my professional career one could possibly write. I thrive on situational learning, rather than academics. When I began my career in the glove industry, it was not because I dreamed of selling hand protection as a child. My education is not in any way related to gloves. I did, however, do my absolute best to learn every single thing I possibly could and tried to get as involved at every level of the business in which I was able to. Here I am 20 years later and I’ve never once looked back.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We at SHOWA believe it is crucial for all U.S. citizens to be more conscious about the impact they have on the world’s environment. It will take a collective effort from everyone to improve it. The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a spike in the amount of PPE that has been discarded irresponsibly. Lots of used gloves and masks can now be seen out in public. While unfortunate, it often takes a crisis to spur change. This pandemic is an opportunity for citizens, businesses and the government to evaluate the impact of our decisions on the world around us.
Improving the way single-use products are disposed of is something our organization is passionate about changing. With more organizations charging PPE manufacturers to find eco-friendly solutions, this topic is becoming more prevalent in our industry. As more companies put their collective brainpower behind finding solutions, the world will be better off for it.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!