Alumnus’ patent has lasting impact on the auto industry

9.14.2020 Alumni News, MBA

By Stacy Poindexter Owen

Geoff Foster (MBA ‘01) never planned to be an entrepreneur. But with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial technology and a Wake Forest MBA, his technical and business skills have made him a leader in his field.

Work Ethic Goes a Long Way

What is injection molding, anyway? Founder and CEO of Core Technology Molding Corporation Geoff Foster explains that it’s a matter of heating up plastic, molding it into a shape, then cooling it down. Geoff’s company has used this process to become a leading plastics solutions supplier. Out of 19,000 injection molding companies in the world, only six are minority-owned. 

A New Jersey native, Geoff and his sister grew up in a single family household where work ethic was instilled from an early age. His father, a Jamaican immigrant, was killed by a drunk driver when Geoff was in kindergarten. Hungry for opportunity, he knew that he would have to work hard. “I value the things I have to earn,” Geoff said. 

A student athlete at North Carolina A&T State University (NC A&T) where he played football, Geoff’s childhood goals through high school were to be an architectural engineer. He loved math, science, and anything technical. Exposure to applied engineering and manufacturing courses his sophomore year at NC A&T put him on a different path.

From Cosmetics to Automobiles

Returning to New Jersey after graduation for a position at Revlon gave Geoff exposure to a high-speed manufacturing environment and his first experience with plastics on an assembly filling line (think cosmetics packaging or the plastic guard on the top of deodorant). He was hooked. An opportunity with AMP, Inc., (then Tyco Electronics and now TE Connectivity) brought him back to North Carolina, where Ford was one of his clients. 

When Hurricane Floyd hit Ford’s Louisville Assembly plant in Kentucky in 1999, the storm waters rose halfway up the doors on miles of new cars parked outside the plant. The water level was so high that the electric connector — a small plastic part that housed 104 electrical connections controlling everything from power windows and door locks to the sunroof — shorted out. And not just on cars that might sit lower to the ground, but across product lines: Escorts, Explorers, Expeditions, Lincolns, Mercurys and Jaguars.

Geoff was given one week to redesign the part. Meanwhile, he and his wife had just welcomed a second child, and if having a new baby wasn’t enough, tack on being a student in Wake Forest’s Evening MBA program. So when he received a call from Ford about the redesign, he indicated that he’d completed the project before the deadline. But Ford already knew this and that’s not why they were calling. They wanted Geoff to be recognized for his innovative design and pursue a patent for his work. Geoff dismissed it, said he was too busy, and hung up. Moments later, Ford called back and insisted that Geoff speak with an attorney. Since that time, Geoff’s patented product has been used in over 31 million cars and counting.

An Unintentional Entrepreneur

Geoff’s career aspirations were set on a product manager position, and going to b-school helped him acquire additional skills for the role he ultimately obtained. Heading into the last semester of his MBA, Geoff was “bitten by the entrepreneurship bug” and decided to take the entrepreneurship elective taught by now retired Professor Jack Ferner. 

“The very first assignment was to submit an executive summary that outlined an idea and scope for a company,” Geoff said. He was visiting Ford plants in Spain and Portugal the week the summary was due, and it was during this trip that he came up with an idea for a plastics injection molding company: Core Technology Molding Corporation. 

He drove to class straight from the airport the night he returned from his trip. When Professor Ferner told the students that most of the proposals he’d reviewed were pretty good, Geoff’s stomach sank when he was asked to stay after class. He was tired, jet lagged, nervous, and ready to go home. After waiting for everyone to leave, Geoff asked, “Is there a problem?” He recalls Ferner’s response: “I never said there was a problem.” 

Instead, Ferner wanted to verify the data in Geoff’s executive summary. “There are 19,000 plastic injection molding companies in the world and only five of them are minority-owned?” Geoff confirmed the data. “I think you’ve got something.” was all Ferner said. 

Halfway on his drive back home to Kernersville, Geoff realized that perhaps he did have something. “It was important for someone to validate my plan. More people had told me that I couldn’t do it than that I could.”

A fear of failure held Geoff back for over five years. He and his wife, Tonya (who is now a VP at Core Technology over Safety & Environmental) were parents to two young children. They had a house and cars. “Is this the right thing? Is it selfish?” Geoff asked himself. “It was risky, but I knew I wasn’t living out my destiny.”

With the support of his family, Geoff pursued his dream and brought Core Technology to life. He went 11 months before making his first sale. Feeling like a failure, he questioned his decision. Fast forward 14 years. Core Technology is now a Tier 1 supplier to BMW — every X3 and X4 in the world has parts from his facility in Greensboro, NC. Twice a week, shipments go out to their plants in Germany, South Africa, Russia and China.

“There’s always something new; it just keeps evolving,” he said of his company that molds over 100 unique parts and 3D printed plastic parts for Additive Manufacturing that ship to the world’s leading companies in 150 countries. More than once, Core Technology has been recognized as a “Supplier of the Year” by Carolinas Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council. “I want Core Technology to be measured as a quality supplier, not only a minority supplier. I want to be recognized in a pool of 19,000, not six.”

Early on Geoff relied on cold calling and trade shows to build his customer base. “Word of mouth is the best advertisement.” When the CEO of BMW said that Core Technology was one of the best injection molding companies in the world, others listened. When the CEO of HAECO commented at a Christmas party that his company relied on Core Technology as a supplier — not because they are a minority-owned business, but because they were the best — people took notice. Geoff and his team are proud to provide innovation and on-time delivery while still being cost competitive.

When asked about advice he’d give to his younger self or to current students, Geoff recommended, “Do your homework. Have a sound business plan. Trust yourself. Students who want to be an entrepreneur need to understand the risk. Get a mentor who can give honest feedback.”

Changing Family Trees 

Over the years, Core Technology has created opportunities for employees who have been displaced by tobacco and other industries that have left the area. Geoff finds talented people, treats them well and trains them. Those who were operators are taught to manipulate robots for automated processes. Team members who previously put parts in a box are taught to program. “As they learn new skills, they add more value, and we pay them more. We have colleagues who used transit authority or walked to work who can now buy cars. Their kids are in better child care and after school programs. Some employees come from dysfunctional homes; working here helps them get away from that.” Geoff is not only impacting his employees, but generations to come.

Describing Core Technology as a family environment, Geoff takes all of his employees on a vacation each year. They’ve been to Montego Bay, Cancun, Dominican Republic, and on a Caribbean cruise. “Several had never been on a plane before; everyone who works here now has a passport.” 

What’s next? 

Named Greensboro’s 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year, Geoff is a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2020 Southeast. The winner will be named later this fall. Just this week, Core Technology was recognized as one of Triad Business Journal’s Fast 50 fastest growing companies in the Triad. Geoff will continue his role as an adjunct professor at NC A&T (where he has taught for over 13 years) in the Applied Engineering Technology department and his work as a Board Member for the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and Board of Visitors Member at NC A&T.

Year after year, Core Technology has expanded, and there are no signs of slowing down. Geoff cites a significant growth opportunity in the bio/pharmaceutical space as a result of having a medical clean room facility (and in the near future, a second room). In FY21, Core Technology will supply Merck with 100 million plunger rods that will be used in vaccines, 200 million in FY22, and one billion over the next five years. When a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, Core Technology will be, too.

To learn more about Core Technology Molding Corporation, visit https://www.coretechnologycorp.com/.

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