John Krafcik / CEO, Waymo, Mountain View, CA
Michael Manley / CEO, Fiat Chrysler, Auburn Hills, MI
R.J. Scaringe / CEO, Rivian Automotive, Plymouth, MI
Evan Lyall / CEO, Roush Enterprises, Livonia, MI
Tom Broad / President, Midwest Steel, Detroit, MI
Each leader is making a huge statement about the future of automotive manufacturing in Motown amid the industry’s evolution to “mobility.” Manley has begun building a Jeep plant in the central city, the first new assembly plant in Detroit in nearly 40 years. Broad is leading digital disruption of a perceived low-tech industry with a modeling platform that accelerates project planning, while aggressively tackling the labor shortage with apprenticeship programs.
Krafcik has committed Google’s automotive unit to build its first generation of self-driving cars in a supplier plant in the city. Scaringe is partnering with Ford and Amazon for his startup to produce electric trucks and SUVs in the area. And Lyall’s specialty-vehicle company is applying what he calls the area’s “tribal knowledge” to the new era—first by building an autonomous-weeding vehicle for farm fields that was sprouted by a startup in Silicon Valley.
Jules Pieri / Founder & CEO, The Grommet, Somerville, MA
She democratized manufacturing with her e-commerce platform that has allowed more than 2,000 “makers” to launch their consumer products online over the past decade, including eventual big winners Fitbit and SimpliSafe.
“Only 10 percent of small business owners have any experience in the area where they’re now creating a company,” Pieri says. “But it’s much easier for a small company to be radically innovative in consumer products. They don’t need to defend legacy products or shelf space that was hard-earned; they’re trying to get the shelf space. Their hurdle rate for success in financial returns is much lower. And they don’t have to go negotiate with seven different internal department; they just say, ‘This is how it should be,’ and so that’s how they make it.”
Brandon Main / CEO, XTreme Manufacturing, Henderson, NV
A leader in the rapidly emerging area of construction-module manufacturing. Main’s outfit uses shipping containers to make structures from backyard indoor gardens to military blast shelters to multi-unit housing complexes. “On the typical construction site, there is a tremendous amount of waste and labor overlap,” says Main, whose company is approaching $100 million in annual revenues, doubling or tripling each year recently, capping off a decade of its modular approach.
Hadley and Dana Wendt / Co-Founders, Jouzge, Oregon, WI
This daughter-mother team started a fast-growing maker of high-protein, low-sugar snack bars for girls that is representative of the women-led startups revolutionizing the food business—and also stands for a female-empowerment trend among makers.
Hadley Wendt insists that she began with a purpose rather than a product per se. “I wanted to build strong and confident girls from the inside out,” she says. “I wanted to give girls a healthy option that hit a taste profile for them instead of for a 42-year-old woman who puts kale in her smoothies. So we covered the bars in chocolate. Girls love chocolate.”
Antonio Pietri / CEO, Aspen Technology, Bedford, MA
The company has mastered asset-performance management software for process manufacturers. Pietri has led AspenTech from a Nasdaq delisting 10 years ago to a new era of growth by helping customers to digitally transform their operations by leveraging the Internet of Things and machine learning.
Tom Shorma / CEO, WCCO Belting, Wahpeton, ND
Innovation—even in an unglamorous industry—is how Shorma has kept this 65-year-old family manufacturing business growing in diverse markets for its rubber-based products.
“Everything we do in our plant is unique, and literally no one else in the world can do what we do,” he says.
Plus, WCCO Belting braves export markets with a sales team that can speak 14 different languages. Trump’s tariffs have been a hindrance, but the company now ships to more than 20 countries. “We’re based in a very small, rural town about as far away as you can be from ocean ports and still be in the U.S.,” Shorma says. “But we embrace global trade and innovation.”
Ric Fulop / Founder & CEO, Desktop Metal, Boston, MA
Clay Guillory / CEO, Titan Robotics, Colorado Springs, Co
Each is a leader in the rapidly evolving world of additive manufacturing. Guillory is a young entrepreneur representative of this fast-growing ecosphere of players, in which Titan makes 3D printers and 3D prints everything from prosthetics to footwear to auto parts. “Companies are moving past incubation and putting these [printers] on the floor,” Guillory says. “It’s truly happening.”
Fulop’s company is attempting to revolutionize 3D printing of metals and counts Ford and BMW among investors. “So far, 3D printing hasn’t been an applicable technology for mass production of metal parts,” Fulop says. “We’ve developed a high-performance process that lets manufacturers take advantage of the freedom of geometry and elimination of tooling… in the future, people will manufacture for design.”