Father-Son Team of Jim ’80 and Ryan ’10 Dandeneau Take Putnam Plastics to New Heights
By Ed Brennen
Putnam Plastics founder and CEO Jim Dandeneau ’80, ’18 (H) is in the car, driving south from Connecticut to New York on a business trip. He has good company along for the ride: his company’s president — and his son — Ryan Dandeneau ’10.
“We spend a lot of time together. Luckily, he puts up with me,” says Ryan, who earned a master’s degree in plastics engineering from UMass Lowell 30 years after his dad completed his bachelor’s degree in the same field at the school.
The Dandeneaus have been busier than ever, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Putnam Plastics, a plastics extrusion company that provides polymer technologies to the medical device industry, has enjoyed “double-digit growth” in recent years, Jim says.
To keep pace, they are expanding the company’s 130,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Dayville, Connecticut, with a new, 57,000-square-foot building that is scheduled to open this summer. They currently have around 380 employees (including several UML alumni) and are looking to hire dozens more.
They are also launching a complementary business, Putnam Medical, which will produce fully finished medical devices such as catheters. It will operate from a separate, 20,000-square-foot manufacturing space that is going into a building that Jim owns in the area, which is located in the northeast corner of the state.
“Putnam Plastics is considered a component manufacturer for medical devices,” Ryan explains. “Putnam Medical can do final assembly, packaging, labeling, sterilizing — the whole nine yards — and then ship directly to device companies.”
The elder Dandeneau started Putnam Plastics in 1984, two years before Ryan was born. He says it’s “a lot of fun” growing the business with his son, who was elevated to company president two years ago.
“We complement each other. He handles a lot more of the day-to-day things, which allows me to focus more on strategic initiatives,” says Dandeneau, who no longer finds himself going down to the manufacturing floor to help troubleshoot the lines. “I’m working on the company, not in the company, which is the role a CEO should have anyway.”
Originally from Rhode Island, Dandeneau was recruited to play hockey at UML by legendary Coach Bill Riley. “But hockey didn’t work out as planned,” says Dandeneau, who quit the team after two years to concentrate on his engineering studies.
“I was more focused on not flunking out,” he says. “I was able to graduate in four years, which was the goal. My hockey career was nonexistent in college, but certainly my engineering degree was well worth getting. I still thank Coach Riley for recruiting me when I see him.”
Learning about plastics engineering from the likes of Profs. Emeriti Robert Malloy ‘79, ‘87 and Nick Schott and Prof. Stephen Driscoll ‘66, ‘72 — who would all end up teaching Ryan three decades later in graduate school — made a lifelong impact on Dandeneau.
“Obviously, the plastics professors are second to none,” he says. “The stability and foundation that they’ve built has been really great.”
Dandeneau has done quite a bit to bolster that foundation. In 1999, he and his wife, Deborah, endowed the Dandeneau Family Scholarship to benefit engineering students — becoming one of the very first alumni to create an endowed scholarship at UML.
“It’s nice to have an impact,” says Dandeneau, who remembers receiving a scholarship from the local society of plastics engineers in Lowell when he was a student. “I didn’t have a lot of money and my parents didn’t have a lot of money. To be able to get that chance and that scholarship — it might have been $500 or $1,000 — to help financially was critical. And I know it affects these students.”
By starting the scholarship fund, and also an endowed research professorship, Dandeneau hoped to “put a little pressure” on some of his college buddies — including Eamonn Hobbs ’80, Larry Acquarulo ‘81 and Mark Saab ’81 — to start funds of their own.
“All these guys from that vintage in the early ’80s have given back, which is nice to see,” says Dandeneau, who is a member of the Plastics Advisory Board with Acquarulo and Saab.
In 2018, the university renamed one of its historic engineering buildings, the former Pasteur Hall, in Dandeneau’s honor.
“It’s pretty wild for a kid from a public high school to have his name on a building,” says Dandeneau, who was inducted into the Francis Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2001 and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from UML in 2005. He has also hosted an annual golf tournament at the Connecticut National Golf Course, which he co-owns, to raise scholarship funds and increase engagement among alumni.
“I credit the university with a lot of my success,” he says. “If I had not gone to Lowell, who knows what I’d be doing? But that work ethic and that degree allowed me to be successful in the field of plastics.”
And now he’s building on that success with his son, who joined the company as a regional sales manager on the West Coast in 2010.
“I let him decide his path and make his own decisions,” says Dandeneau, whose daughter, Lauren, works in the pharmaceutical industry.
“I’ve always been around the business, and I liked math and science, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted coming out of high school,” says Ryan, who earned a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Connecticut, where he also played on the Division I golf team.
Ryan, who is now starting a family of his own, says people cannot believe how well he gets along with his dad.
“We not only work together every day, but we work out together, play golf, play hockey, travel,” he says. “We agree on a lot of things, which is rare. If there’s a big decision about something important, we both say how we feel and 99% of the time we’re thinking alike.”
“It’s great to have your son involved in the business,” Jim says. “It’s one of the reasons I’m probably still around and still running it. It makes it more fun, for sure.”