Selfless — this may be a bit obvious, but we have never heard a tale of a hero who acted out of self-interest.
Empathy — heroes understand what others are experiencing and want to help.
Love — this includes love for humanity, love for animals, and love for the environment.
As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Baker, President/Owner of Jamestown Plastics and Founder/Owner of TrueHero, Inc. He is an inventor holding more than 40 USA and international patents, including the “Clamtainer” — the world’s first Certified Child Resistant clamshell container. He is very involved in his community, including serving on the local Board of Education for 25 years after spearheading a successful school merger. Jay holds a BS in Business from Clarkson University and is married to the love of his life, Sharon, with whom he has four adult children and two grandchildren.
In March 2020, as our world was dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic, Jay led his team in the design and development of a new patent-pending face shield. The resulting product, the TrueHero™ Extreme Coverage Face Shield, was market-ready within three days and is in use worldwide today. To help frontline healthcare workers, more than 10,000 TrueHero™ face shields have been donated to healthcare facilities throughout the USA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?
I grew up in the far western corner of New York State near the shores of Chautauqua Lake and the historical Chautauqua Institution. This is a very rural area, except for when Chautauqua Institution is in session. Then the population of our little corner of the cosmos grows exponentially. I graduated high school with a class of 43 kids, whose families mainly kept the plumbing working, the roof from leaking and the grass mowed for all of those who arrived here in the summer. Our community was made up of a very blue collar, “make your way in life anyway you can,” great bunch of people who would give a stranger the shirts off their backs.
My folks are children of the Depression. Self-reliance and self-responsibility were ingrained into them as babies and they did the same with their children. Growing up, I had a lot of responsibility around the home, including hunting vermin red squirrels which plagued our house. I am eternally grateful for this gift of self-confidence bestowed by my parents. It has been the cornerstone of my success and happiness. I have never feared a challenge nor an opportunity because of their belief in their children’s potential.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Great question! Well, a love of reading was also imparted from my parents. My mom’s parents’ house was literally so full of books and magazines that there were aisles between the stacks in virtually every room. You ask about “a particular” book. My answer is no…not a particular book, but so many different books. I am a huge history lover and value the adage “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” Reading countless historically-based tomes, especially about great conflicts like The Civil War and the Great Wars, has always given me, I believe, a balanced perspective of any current “crisis.” It also provided me perspective on the changing expectations of society, about when one is “mature” and what is expected of them. If you are a student of history, you are cognizant of how young many of the most impactful players were when they were altering the course of history. Reading about Alexander the Great, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and countless others puts into perspective when a person was expected to hit their stride compared to today.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Most folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” This has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln, a man who suffered from depression, lived through personal tragedy in his family, and had to bear the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people died under his orders. Yet, his spirit and belief in the justice of his course for his country was unwavering. Lincoln is my hero.
This quote has been a talisman for me many times in my life. We all face personal and professional crises at some point in our lives. A particularly difficult time on both fronts came for me during the economic meltdown starting the fall of 2008. Very hard decisions had to be made regarding members of our Jamestown Plastics “family” to allow the company to survive. But we circled the wagons and did what had to be done. Because our “family” faced this challenge with resoluteness in our hearts that we would survive and again thrive, we did and have. Despite the huge negative forces confronting us we did our best to approach each day with a sense of optimism. “Most folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?
Jamestown Plastics, for decades, has been solving tough engineering challenges within our field. Our “BE BOLD” ethos has driven our success. I tell my team members — literally my family at Jamestown Plastics, some by blood, most by history — “I am uninterested in the thousands of ways we can’t fix this….I only want to hear suggestions on how we do fix this.” Attitude…back to Lincoln…it really does come down to attitude. Whether an organization has ten, hundreds, or thousands of members, what is the collective attitude? Does the organization embrace a challenge or tend to be cautious? At Jamestown Plastics, we say “Bring on the challenge!”
This ethos directly leads to TrueHero™, the product we invented and then manufactured in warp speed. Our company — despite more than 60 years in manufacturing for clients in the automotive, consumer goods, healthcare, and government sectors — had never ventured into the world of PPE. It had become a market dominated by the cheapest source of supply, typically from Asia. The pandemic changed it all. In early March 2020, we were approached by several individuals and institutions asking if we could help in this crisis. I directed my team that these were new times and we needed to do what we could, with one major caveat — we would approach it with innovation and boldness. Our team came through! We invented and are manufacturing the best face shield product line in history, the TrueHero™ Extreme Coverage Face Shields. The positive responses from medical professionals, food processors, schools, and consumers have been simply overwhelming.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?
Well, I expect I will answer this in a manner you least expect. You already know my historical predilections. Something that really bugs me is the dilution of so many terms. “Hero” is one of them. In my estimation those who qualify for that hallowed moniker include all Medal of Honor Recipients, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and countless more! But what about folks doing their jobs?
First responders, medical professionals, teachers and school staff, essential workers that keep the community running even if you do not see them every day — I think we have spoken to those people in our name “TrueHero. All of them are “true” to the jobs for which they willingly signed up. I believe that is why so many of them are uncomfortable being called “heroes” by the rest of us. They do not see themselves as “heroes.” They are wired to do the jobs that they love. So, I think “TrueHero” is the spot-on description for these folks on whom we all depend every day. They are being “true” to their callings and, for the rest of us, they are “heroes” for doing so.
In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.
Heroes have many strong characteristics. Five that I believe they all share include:
- Selfless — this may be a bit obvious, but we have never heard a tale of a hero who acted out of self-interest.
- Empathy — heroes understand what others are experiencing and want to help.
- High pain tolerance — this includes physical, mental, and emotional pain tolerance, knowing that what they are doing is not going to be easy.
- Short memory — even if the last attempt at heroics turned out poorly, heroes will do it all over again when presented with the opportunity.
- Love — this includes love for humanity, love for animals, and love for the environment.
If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?
That is a question that has been asked throughout millennia! It is easy to default to heroes of military conflicts, simply because of so many examples. But what made Rosa Parks stand up for what was right? My guess is that it is a combination of DNA and environment. Specific to environment, the horrors of past world wars teach us that the masses can be trained and indoctrinated to do horrific things, well knowing they will suffer the loss of their lives in doing so. Kamikaze pilots for example…are they heroes or pawns? The 10,000th lemming was just following 9,999. From my reading and my observations, it seems that “heroes” have an internal compass; from where they acquire such is up for debate. But they have the strength to follow that compass wherever it points…consequences be damned. That is what Rosa Parks and John Meagher had in common.
What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?
As noted earlier, the worldwide pandemic was the main driver. For myself and our team at Jamestown Plastics, it was gut wrenching to see the appeals for PPE coming out of New York City and downstate in early March 2020. This galvanized our drive to do whatever we could to help, which resulted in the TrueHero™ Extreme Coverage Face Shield. The responses from the 54 hospitals in New York City, to which we donated TrueHero face shields, still brings tears to our eyes. We truly feel blessed that we could maybe make some small positive contribution in this crisis.
Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?
Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others are great figures in history and heroes of mine. Today’s heroes are the ones who are uncomfortable being called such, working on the frontlines of this crisis.
Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?
From the start of the pandemic, especially here in the USA, we saw many examples of inadequate supply of PPE. While some healthcare facilities are better equipped today, we still have a shortage of PPE for students and staff within our schools. We know that controlling the spread of the virus is important, but so is human connection and interaction, especially within a school setting. This is where TrueHero™ face shields can play a role. Good hygiene and distancing are important, as is some type of facial covering. Cloth face masks are an option but can be uncomfortable when worn for an extended time. Cloth masks also prohibit seeing facial expressions and non-verbal cues when trying to communicate with each other, which, obviously, is especially important is the education process. The TrueHero™ addresses those concerns.
Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?
Homo sapiens are the most adaptable species in our little blue orb’s history. We will figure it out. Again…please, please, please read history. Read about the various plagues, the 1918 flu pandemic, and other events that were far deadlier. One example of a measuring stick is child survival rates in the USA. In 1900, the infant mortality rate was 165 per 1,000. Today it is under 6 per 1,000. At the start of the 20th century, when families were large, you were bucking the odds if you had not lost a child by number six. In fact, by child three you were on the wrong side of 50/50. Modern science has changed all of this, which is why I believe we will figure it out and adapt.
What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?
It is inspiring and affirming to see that when the vast majority of us are presented a challenge to make things better for our friends and neighbors, we all jump in. We see this in communities across the country, with people banding together to help those most in need. Unfortunately, we are also seeing people who are not able to adequately protect themselves from the virus. This leads to them buying poor quality products in desperation, as they scramble to find anything that they think will work.
Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has shown how critical it is to have reliable, geographically close supply chains. Over time, manufacturing of many PPE-related products has been outsourced to countries that provided lower costs. That worked well when demand was consistent and predictable. The true test for a supply chain, though, is when a crisis hits and demand for these products spike. Unfortunately, our country tested its supply chain earlier this year and was challenged in securing adequate PPE. Manufacturing key products within the USA will help us better control the supply chain and shorten our lead times. Jamestown Plastics has been manufacturing in the USA for 62 years and has shown that we can be competitive, key suppliers for our customers.
What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I would like to see us truly embrace the motto from my youth in the 1970s — can’t we all just get along?
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I had an amazing science teacher back in the 1970s that loved to tell us, “most of the ‘truth’ you hear…isn’t.” That was 50 years ago! Young people today have a tough job compared to when I was growing up. They are inundated with “news” from every direction, making it difficult to know the “truth.” When I was young, we had three national news stations and one local paper.
One “truth” that I learned growing up was the importance of leaving something better than the way you found it. This applies to simple things such as camp sites or classrooms, but also applies to society and the environment. We are obligated to make sure that our world continues to exist for our kids, grandkids, and many generations thereafter. The only way that we can do so is by using our collective talents to continue improving everything around us.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
Continued innovation of products, specifically related to product safety, is a movement that I would like to see increase. This is something that we try to do in all our products at Jamestown Plastics. You see this with the TrueHero™, a product that provides superior protection to wearers, and with our Clamtainer™. The Clamtainer was designed to provide a better consumer experience with packaging, but just as importantly to have packages that are child resistant. Innovation drove our work to make a product that provides additional safety, giving consumers and companies better peace of mind.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Jeff Bezos. He has simply changed how consumers see the world. I am happy to pay for lunch!
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can follow our companies on our websites — www.JamestownPlastics.com and www.TrueHeroShield.com. They can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am not personally online much but can be seen every now and then through our company channels.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Same to you! Thank you for the opportunity!