Rob Thorgren originally planned to become a physical education teacher and coach like two of his mentors. “I graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, the study of human movement, at mid-year. There were no teaching jobs to be had during Christmas break,” he recalls.
“My dad asked me if I could help him out with a project for a couple of months until I could get a teaching job. I stayed on with the company because I loved it,” Thorgren says. “I felt like I was contributing something that was important.” The company he has stayed with for the past 11 years is Thorgren Tool and Molding Inc., a Valparaiso-based manufacturing and distribution firm started by his great-grandfather and grandfather in 1946. The company creates injection molded plastic parts for the appliance industry.
“We estimate that every American home has at least four of our parts in it. We make fans and air movement parts for refrigerators and microwaves for almost all the major appliance manufacturers,” he says.
Robert Thorgren III, named for his father and grandfather, serves as the plant superintendent at the Valparaiso facility that employs about 100 people. He started working at the plant during the summers after high school and while in college.
Robert Thorgren III
Thorgren Tool and Molding Inc.
1100 Evans Ave, Valparaiso, Ind.
“I’ve always been interested in the mechanical side of the business,” he says. “I started as a machine operator. I’m involved in the technological aspects of the business. My dad does the management side.” In the years since the 33-year old joined the family business, Thorgren Tool and Molding has expanded into two international manufacturing locations, in Shanghai, China and Juarez, Mexico, with Rob Thorgren’s assistance.
“My biggest challenge so far was establishing those two facilities, and I went over to both places to do that,” he says. “We had nothing in China and we had to build from the ground up. In Mexico, we just started with a shell of a building.”
Thorgren Tool and Molding opened those plants as manufacturing facilities only for the domestic markets in both countries. “We don’t export anything from those plants. We ship within each country,” Thorgren says. “The companies we supplied parts to said they were tired of paying duty costs, so we built in their countries.”
He’s also helped introduce various technologies to the Valparaiso plant, which is both a manufacturing and distribution facility.
“I got involved because I thought the company was important to our family,” he says.
That sense of teamwork is among the lessons Thorgren says he learned from coaches, including his father, Robert Thorgren Jr. The Thorgren family also gave Rob roots, a sense of community and the example of giving back, he says.
“My parents are very philanthropic. Growing up, I saw how much they gave back to the community,” Thorgren says. “I have always been surrounded by very positive people.”
“Rob has shown a personal commitment to community service through his extensive volunteerism for our Valparaiso Family YMCA,” says Debra Koeppen, the agency’s financial development director, who nominated Thorgren for 20 Under 40. Thorgren helped develop the Valpo Jazz and Blues Fest to benefit the YMCA’s “Strong Kids” campaign Koeppen says. The festival raises funds to help defray membership costs for those who can’t afford to belong to the YMCA, he says. Koeppen also credits Thorgren with helping make the YMCA’s new building a reality.
Rob Thorgren is also a member of the Public Education Foundation of Valparaiso board of directors. He’s following in his father’s footsteps, coaching his son Bo’s Pop Warner football team.
Thorgren and his wife, Natalie, also have a two-year old son, Sam. “They keep us busy,” he says with a chuckle. Natalie Thorgren is a second grade teacher at Valparaiso’s Northview Elementary School.
“She keeps me grounded and in a good place,” Thorgren says of his wife. “I couldn’t do everything I do without her support.”