Discovering what you are passionate about and making it a career is an incredible accomplishment.
Some people are lucky enough to experience that feeling a few times in their careers.
In this episode of Empowered Owners, Curtis Elliott, president at Paramount Plastics, discusses his career path, from his initial goal of joining law enforcement to unexpected opportunities in manufacturing. Curtis’s “what’s next?” attitude led him on a journey of personal and professional growth that ultimately shaped the successful leader he is today.
What You’ll Learn
- Valuable lessons from Curtis’ experiences in law enforcement. Learn how crisis management, quick thinking, and on-the-spot decision-making have shaped his leadership style.
- How you can be a stronger advocate for your colleagues and customers in your own role. Learn ways to support and champion their needs and goals.
- How to reflect on your own values and how they align with your professional and personal life while identifying areas where you can prioritize what truly matters to you.
Timestamps[04:06] How Curtis started his career in law enforcement
[08:02] Transferable skills learned from serving as a police officer
[12:41] The importance of passion in your work
[15:01] Why Curtis went back to school
[19:17] The benefits of employee ownership
How to Listen or Watch
Listen below or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Watch below or @Empowered_Ventures on YouTube.
Read the full transcript here or below the following media links.
Chris Fredericks: Welcome to Empowered Owners, the podcast that takes you inside Empowered Ventures. I’m your host, Chris Fredericks. In each episode, I’ll have a discussion with one of our employees to discover and highlight their distinct personalities, perspectives, and skills while also keeping you in the loop with exclusive news, updates on company performance, and a glimpse into the future plans of Empowered Ventures. This is an opportunity for me to learn more about our amazing employee owners and an opportunity for you to hear regularly from me and others from within Empowered Ventures. On this episode of Empowered Owners. I’m talking with Curtis Elliott, president of Paramount Plastics, a company Empowered Ventures acquired in December 2021. Curtis joined Paramount in 2018 to lead operations. After a nearly 38 year stint with another manufacturing company, Curtis was hired by Paramount’s former owners to improve operations and transition the business through an exit. As we got to know him through the due diligence process, we were excited to promote Curtis to President as part of the transition. Since then, Curtis continues to be a wholehearted advocate for not only Paramount’s employees and customers, but also for Empowered Ventures as a whole. Today you’ll get to know Curt from dreaming of becoming a police officer to his decision to go back to school. We’ll dive into what he loves to do, how he approaches business and life and what really matters to him. With that, let’s get to my conversation with Curtis. Hi, Curtis. Welcome to Empowered Owners.
Curtis Elliott: Thank you for inviting me. I just wanted to let you know I’m probably the biggest fan of the podcast. I love the podcast, so I was looking forward to my opportunity to be on the podcast. Thank you.
Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. And thank you so much for agreeing to come on. I thought we might start with your background, but to kick start, I’m curious what you wanted to be when you grew up as a kid in northern Indiana.
Curtis Elliott: So my grandfather was a Chicago police officer, so I always aspired to be a police officer growing up. When I got into my high school years, I realized that it wasn’t required to have education to be in law enforcement at that point, so I needed to fill in about three years in order to get to that point where I’d be eligible to be hired. But even then, most of the local departments didn’t offer opportunities for employment till you were usually around 24, 25. So I knew it was going to be a little while, and so I graduated in January of that year and found a job and actually ended up going to work for a small family owned operation here in Elkhart County called Foamcraft. And that was going to be my fill in job until I could get to that point where I could join the police department.
Chris Fredericks: So law enforcement and your grandfather being in law enforcement growing up, what was it about either law enforcement or your grandfather? Both that kind of made that such an interesting career path and something you were really interested in.
Curtis Elliott: So my grandfather was a Chicago police officer, and obviously he had enormous stories about his tenure there. I would listen for hours to him tell many times, probably the same stories, but I enjoyed them just as much the second time and third time. But I just really did enjoy hearing all of his life experience through what he did for the Chicago Police Department. And he was on the Chicago Police Department for a total of 19 years and actually was shot at once. He really did live the beat cop life. And it just for me, that’s where I wanted to go. I felt like that’s where I want to end up.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Were your parents supportive of that career path?
Curtis Elliott: Oh, yeah, they thought it was a good plan. Obviously, law enforcement was a good opportunity as far as paying benefits, and my dad always thought and back then, they still had pension programs, so it was a good plan for me to go.
Chris Fredericks: So you were in law enforcement? Correct. Coming out of high school, then you did get some work in law enforcement.
Curtis Elliott: I did. I actually joined the Elkhart City Police Department as a reserve because at the time they didn’t have any full time openings, and I did that shortly after I turned 21. And I ended up serving a total of 13 years as a reserve officer in various departments around Elkhart County. Actually, it was about 13 and a half years total.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Did you enjoy it?
Curtis Elliott: I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It was everything my grandfather told me it would. Some of the things that I didn’t anticipate it was going to be was some of the tragedy that’s involved and hardship, and that did trouble me. I suffered a little bit with PTSD at some point. I’ve had some bad experiences with it, along with the good was always better or more than the bad. So I always enjoyed doing it.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah. Thank you for your service back then, as you’re suggesting. I think we all have a lot to be grateful for for those that are in law enforcement and the challenges that they deal with on behalf of all of us.
Curtis Elliott: They see a whole lot of terror. The average citizen doesn’t have to. Firefighters and obviously medics are the same. It’s a tough job.
Chris Fredericks: Thank you for sharing that. And you mentioned as part of that that you got a job with Foamcraft around the same time. Was the plan then to do both for a little while and then eventually go full time law enforcement? Was that the initial plan?
Curtis Elliott: Yeah, that was my initial plan, to hang in there at least as long as it would take to get a full time opportunity in law enforcement, as God normally does. He has different plans for us, and he knew better than I knew at the time. So what had happened was I began to grow with the company because I always had what I consider to be a what’s next? Attitude, and I would always be asking, what’s next? So oftentimes I would be far ahead of my colleagues in terms of experience, so they would say, hey, we got this opportunity, are you interested? And of course, I never turned down growth, so I moved up and I moved up. And at the time, which was about, I’m going to guesstimate 27, 28 years old, where I had an opportunity to test and go full time. Unfortunately, it was going to require me to take a pay cut, and it became a difficult decision to go backwards and pay. So I staying doing both. I kept working at Foamcraft and growing all the while I was working as a reserve officer at the same time. And I was okay with that because I got to do both things and enjoy both things very much.
Chris Fredericks: Interesting. And then eventually, I imagine you had to make a choice about whether to continue in law enforcement at some point.
Curtis Elliott: Right. 1995, my oldest son, who was born in 85, was ten years old and went to Warsaw, Indiana, and got his first hit off of a pitcher in a minors team baseball game. And of course I was patrolling that and missed it. And so that night I was probably overrun by guilt. I told my wife, I said, I think it’s time to focus on the kids and start paying more attention to them and being more involved with them and become more of a family man. So I retired and took, I think Jeff was ten, I think I was off four years. And then I went back for a little while, and I went back and filled in for a little bit. Ultimately decided after about another year and a half after that, I decided I’d had enough. And it had gotten to be a situation where it was a young man’s game, and I was starting to get to the point where I didn’t really feel like I had my heart in it anymore. I did get out. It was about 1999 when I finally retired. All the way out.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah. How did being in law enforcement help you with your career?
Curtis Elliott: I think for me, Chris, it’s really given me an opportunity to work under crisis and to be able to make very quick it’s really that job is a lot of crisis management and thinking on your feet and being quick with answers. So that’s what it gave me, is just crisis management and understanding how to keep things under control and not losing, not getting overwhelmed with all of the action going on, so to speak.
Chris Fredericks: So Foamcraft, you ended up, and that’s a manufacturing company. Did you ever imagine being in manufacturing growing up?
Curtis Elliott: No, not so much. Although most kids when I was in school thought about being outside they wanted to be, not inside a factory. A factory was a bad place to have to go. I went right away after high school and got a landscaping job, and I really hated it. I hated being out in the weather. So when I got inside the factory, I thought, that ain’t so bad. I got a roof over my head and four walls. It’s not too bad. So I actually did not ever mind the factory. I enjoyed being the factory. So when I finally did decide to get out, for the boys’ sake, it was like 19, six ish is the first time I got out. But I was at that point where I’d already promoted to a PM level and was running the Goshen facility for them. And manufacturing is all I really loved at that point. It just became what I loved. And I began to realize over a period of time, you don’t really manage widgets, you manage people. And if you’re good with people and give them the insight on what you’re expecting and you lead them correctly, then they’ll do their best for you. And we were very successful. We ran a very successful operation.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah. So you started, what, 18 years old, and then you spent, like, 37, 38 years there.
Curtis Elliott: 37 years.
Chris Fredericks: Wow.
Curtis Elliott: 2018. I started in 1981, and I left in 2018.
Chris Fredericks: That’s incredible. Did you have any mentors in that business?
Curtis Elliott: Absolutely. I have gratitude to several people, but 1987, I was put on a piece of land in a building for a couple. It was on the property of Via Industries, which was in New Paris, Indiana. We were going to be their polyurethane foam fabricator. And the two owners, Doug and Bob Sturry, turned out to be very dear friends of mine over the years and obviously were part of it. My direct report, Michael Rich, was obviously a very big part of my growth and experience. And then, of course, the owner of the company or CEO, Rob Elliott, was very instrumental in bringing me along and mentoring. I was really fortunate in that regard. I think God put those guys in my life for a reason and ultimately is why I’m where I’m at today.
Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. Any key lessons learned or advice that they gave you at any point that just stands out?
Curtis Elliott: Yeah. I worked for Rob’s dad initially, RT, and he was a very good man, a hard charger. He was a guy that took no prisoners. But he always told me, don’t do anything. You got to look over your shoulder, make sure you do things, walk upright, and be righteous in your dealings, and always lay down at night knowing that you did the best by people you could. And that’s pretty much what I’ve lived my career by, being honest and telling people the truth. In manufacturing, I found that a lot of people will tell you what they want you to hear, and I don’t do that I tell people the truth, if it’s not so much what they want to hear, then that’s okay, we’ll get through it, but at least it’s the truth. We got to start there first. So I just feel like he was a very ethical man. He was the kind of person that didn’t drink during the lunch hour and things like that. He followed the policies. Very strong ethical man, and I just learned a lot from him. To be under him and just be able to see those ways of business was very telling to me. I enjoyed my time with them very much.
Chris Fredericks: Was there a point at which you were like, it really hit you, like, wow, I can make a career out of it.
Curtis Elliott: Actually I began to realize, Chris, that I loved it more. I loved law enforcement. I worked with people closely, got to know them really well, and we developed relationships. And in law enforcement, you don’t necessarily get as much time, but you do the same. You get to know the public, you get to know the people in the public. And I began to realize, man, I really do like doing this. And I was actually pretty good at it. Yeah. I decided early, like, 94, 95, that I wanted to pursue management more than I wanted to pursue law enforcement. So that’s what I did.
Chris Fredericks: That makes me wonder. I know you to be a very passionate person, passionate about people, manufacturing other things, family other things that maybe we’ll get into. But I’m curious, where does that passion come from?
Curtis Elliott: Just a drive to want to do the very best you can do. Everyone wants to be successful. There’s no one that wakes up in the morning and says, hey, I really hope I get nothing done today. We all want to accomplish something. But I will admit I’m more than your normal passion. I just engross myself into to the point where it becomes a love and everything about what I do. I want to love what I do.
Chris Fredericks: Do you have a sense of anything that could have created that sense of passion?
Curtis Elliott: Yeah, my dad was such a loyal guy and such a hard worker. I’m sure I got most of what I have to this day come from my dad, and there’s a day I don’t think about my dad. My dad was a simple person in terms of education, but he was light years ahead of most when it comes to common sense, so he taught us a lot of stuff. There were seven of us, five boys and two girls. So, yeah, we learned a lot from him, and obviously I would count him as a mentor also.
Chris Fredericks: So what else would you say you’re passionate about? And I may have listed some of them, but manufacturing people, like any other things, come to mind.
Curtis Elliott: My grandkids. Yeah, my grandkids and my dogs. I love my grandkids so much that I’d be with them all the time if I could. In fact, my wife and I are really excited. We’re going to move four doors down from my son, so we’re going to have an opportunity to really be able to be close and watch him grow up. And that’s exciting for us.
Chris Fredericks: That’s amazing. That makes me wonder too, being passionate about so many things. Time can be a challenge. Like, how do you find that you balance commitment to work and family and other passions. What lessons have you learned in that area?
Curtis Elliott: It takes extreme time management, actually, along the way, almost two years ago now, I hired a partner, a fellow named Ben Avalon here at Paramount, and he challenged me to go back to school. So now I’m not only doing the work and the family, but I’m doing school, too. So it takes a tremendous amount of time management. For me, it’s a real juggling act, but if you’re committed to it, it can be done.
Chris Fredericks: Tell me about going back to school so I know you’ve been successful. I don’t think you went to college at all early in your career. What goes into a decision to go back and go to school?
Curtis Elliott: So Ben comes into my office one day, and this is shortly after he hired in, and he said, Curt, I’m curious, why did you ever go to school? And I said, Ben. I said, It was always something. There was always the kids and then there was the expenses and there was always something in a way. And he said, Is there anything in a way now? And I said, not really. So I decided to do it because for me it’s to validate what I’ve done. It’s just to put a stamp on it saying he could do it. And so I went back to Ivy Tech, fall of 22, I started classes and I’m going full time, technically full time. Twelve credit hours and working full time and taking care of the grandkids full time. I think my wife helped me an awful lot, Chris. I owe the world to her. We’re going to be married this December the 23rd for 40 years.
Chris Fredericks: Wow. Congratulations.
Curtis Elliott: Yeah. I think my wife and Ben are probably the best partners I’ve had so far.
Chris Fredericks: That’s amazing.
Curtis Elliott: Yeah.
Chris Fredericks: What do you think in terms of secrets of a great partnership with Monica.
Curtis Elliott: We became friends before we ever thought of being a couple. And she is my best friend. She always has been. My best friend will likely be my best friend till I die, but that’s the secret to me, I think. Be best friends first, all the rest of this stuff will fall into place properly. You don’t have to really worry about it. It’ll come as it needs to come and then everything else is being best friends. I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me, Chris, that she’s eligible for sainthood because she stayed with me this long.
Chris Fredericks: Back to the school thing. I’m super interested. Now that you’re doing it, what are you getting out of it other than proving to yourself that you can do it and validating that you could do it?
Curtis Elliott: Interestingly enough, it hasn’t been the curriculum, because a lot of the curriculum I already know. So in fact, most of my professors tell me that you could teach a class. So it’s actually been something I didn’t expect or didn’t foresee happening. But I enjoy being around young people. I just never imagined culturally there’d be an opportunity where I would this 60, soon to be one year old guy would be sitting in a classroom with a bunch of 18 to 23 year olds, and I would have never had that opportunity had I not gone back to school. So it’s been very interesting to me, and I’ve really enjoyed it, actually. It’s exposed me to a lot of new things that I wasn’t ever thinking I’d be exposed to. So I love it. I love to go to class. I loved the classroom. In fact, I have a class that I go to right now that’s all generally 18 to 21 year olds, and here I sit amongst them. It’s very interesting.
Chris Fredericks: Yeah, I love that so much because what that makes me think of is just people spending time with each other, young people, old people, all kinds of different groups of people. And it seems like once you actually spend time with people, you get to know them, and a lot of the kind of barriers and assumptions melt away sometimes.
Curtis Elliott: Yeah. You become friends with somebody in spite of what their cultural beliefs are. I can be friends with someone. And the other thing I tell the professors often, I say I learn more from the students than I learn from the curriculum. I really do. It’s a very interesting dynamic I didn’t anticipate.
Chris Fredericks: That’s amazing. Any other thoughts about what you might want to do with this education you’re getting or plans for the future?
Curtis Elliott: I actually been encouraged by many of the professors to come back. They won’t pursue my master’s and get that finished up and then come back as an adjunct professor there at Ivy Tech. And I’m excited. I want to try to accomplish that now. That’s a lofty goal, and it’s down the road away, and obviously a lot of things got to happen. If I get there, then I think I’ve got something that I can get back. A lot of real life experience on the ground getting after it, and I obviously can bring some things to the kids that they don’t out of the books. I’m excited about maybe being able to do that at some point.
Chris Fredericks: I think that’s amazing. If you end up doing that, that would be really neat. I don’t want to let you go until we talk a little bit about employee ownership, because when we first met seemed to me that you got excited and passionate about employee ownership as fast as anybody that I had met. So I’m curious what your thoughts are about employee ownership and the future for Paramount and the team members there.
Curtis Elliott: I’m really excited to share this story because I hired in at Paramount knowing that they were going to sell. Rex was looking for opportunity to sell it and generally was looking at private equity. And I think it was the summer of 20. I met you the first time and I went home that night and I had never heard of an ESOP. I knew nothing about it. And I began to submerge myself into what an ESOP was and what it meant, and I just knew that the Lord had brought you to us and that we were a perfect fit for not only the ESOP, but actually for us, for our team. We were a family owned company and as often family owned companies go, the employees didn’t always feel like they were a participant of the group. The ownership typically had their saying that it was a final word. When you had left in 20, I thought, that’s going to be a duck deal. And at the time I didn’t realize it, but you were in your own growing mode and hadn’t really put yourself in a position yet and decided between you and Rex, decided maybe you’d take a brief break. And of course, then COVID hit and we had a whole COVID thing. So back in 21, you and a guy named Spencer Springer showed back up and I was like, oh, my word. It was like, you don’t get two chances at the same apple. We went to dinner that night and I vividly remember telling you, don’t leave me at the altar. So I really wanted this to happen so badly because I knew it was the best things for our folks. It was just going to be an opportunity to really do something special for them after having committed to Rex and the family for so many years. So I didn’t at that time, though, though, that I was going to stay on because that was always a chance, right? Whoever bought the company wouldn’t keep me. And when I got the call in November, I don’t think you realized how relieved and excited I was because I was going to get to be a part of it. And, yeah, I’m very passionate about employee ownership here at Paramount and the fact that our team, we’re really beginning to feel the fruits of the training with them now, and they’re starting to develop that culture that we want. And it’s so exciting to see, really, it’s very important for our group. When they got their statements this year, they were extremely shocked and extremely and it’s each time we do that, it seems like it grows more enthusiasm, so we’re really stoked. I told Emily on the pre call that I was just so excited that this has been a blessing to me. It’s been a tremendous blessing to me on a personal and also as a company level.
Chris Fredericks: That’s great. Thank you for sharing all that. And yeah, I want you to know, Curt, I think the world of you. When we were making the decision to go forward and bring Paramount into the Empowered Ventures family of companies, you were a huge part of that decision, as I’ve told you before. And I just couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity we have together and for you to lead Paramount into this future, great future for all the team members there. I’m super grateful to you.
Curtis Elliott: Spencer used to tell me in the early on, he says, we got to get through this so we can start having some fun. And I really do love that phrase because we’ve been having a lot of just it’s been really exciting and a lot of fun for our folks.
Chris Fredericks: That’s awesome. Any advice for all of our employee owners or future employee owners? What advice would come to mind for you, Curt?
Curtis Elliott: I try to encourage everybody to accept the full culture of ownership and to own what the results are and to help improve our situation by being a better steward of the opportunity. That’s what I try to encourage all of our employee owners to embrace this whole notion that I’m an owner and to operate the way you need to operate to express the best results from that.
Chris Fredericks: Wonderful. Anything else you’d want to add? Anything we didn’t cover that you would like to add to the conversation?
Curtis Elliott: Just that I’m extremely excited about being on the podcast today and being able to share because I love for me, the podcast has been an opportunity to learn more about the employee owners and I just have really enjoyed learning more about the various people that have been on and I’m hoping that people learn a little bit about me.
Chris Fredericks: I’m sure they’ll be really excited to listen to this one. Curt, thank you again for your passion, for your leadership and for all you’re doing. And thanks for coming on Empowered Owners.
Curtis Elliott: And thank you for believing in us and taking us under the umbrella. We do really appreciate it. Chris.
Chris Fredericks: I really enjoyed that conversation with Curtis. To me, Curt epitomizes what it means to live with passion and personal growth. He’s a great role model for me and anyone seeking to build a fulfilling career in life I feel fortunate to work with Curt, and I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Thank you to Curtis for joining me and Paramount’s, Ben Havland and Bill Davis and Empowered Venture’s Spencer Springer for suggesting topics for the discussion. Huge thank you as well to Emily Bopp and the team at Share Your Genius for producing this episode. Remember, we want to hear from you. Please give us feedback, suggest guests and topics for future episodes and tell us how we can keep improving the show. To reach us, email [email protected]. Thank you for tuning in.