On one wall is a large whiteboard filled with chemistry equations and math problems. The office looks out through a large glass window over a bright and open space where a team is quietly going about their work.
This is the setting where Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s new materials application research group is hard at work, and Jeremy Schlarb, ’00, is tasked with leading the team.
“I never imagined I’d be sitting here today,” said Schlarb gesturing around his office. “People saw leadership qualities in me that I didn’t see at the time. When they offered me the chance to move up, I thought, ‘This looks like another adventure. Let’s try that.’”
The focus of the group, which was developed in January, is on big-picture thinking and studying fundamental material science. The group works with Cooper’s regional tech centers (in Asia, Europe and North America) on fundamental research projects and investigating new ideas. They think about anything from what’s new in the industry to the use and application of polymers and other rubber chemicals.
“We’re really trying to stay ahead of the technology,” Schlarb said. “We work with our tech centers to solve problems and explore the chemistry behind various materials, how these materials affect tires, how materials function in the rubber formulation, things like that.”
There are many steps, procedures, processes and research that go in to making a product. Tires are no exception. While his team focuses on science and research, Schlarb focuses on the team.
“In the beginning, I just tried to create the vision for the group – how we would operate, what types of projects we’d work on,” he said. “But now I focus on relationship building because it’s the biggest part of anagement – with your team and across the organization.”
Schlarb had never really thought about management when he started at Cooper 18 years ago. He was a chemistry major working in the materials development group on rubber formulation development. He also spent time in the manufacturing lab where he worked on the quality control of rubber batches, scaling up from the lab to the production environment, mixing and extrusion, and tire curing.
While Schlarb learned the concepts and foundation of chemistry at Heidelberg – Cooper taught him to apply that knowledge to rubber and tires. He felt Heidelberg taught him other important skills that have impacted his work at Cooper too – time management, self-sufficiency and motivation.
“I enjoyed my time at Heidelberg. It was a place where you couldn’t get lost in a crowd,” Schlarb said. “In my upper-level classes, sometimes there were only three or four of us in the class. You couldn’t be shy.”
Schlarb and his wife, Jill (Hunt, ’00), were high school sweethearts who went looking for a college together. They wanted a small school that wasn’t too far from home and, like most alums, were won over by the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. At Heidelberg, Schlarb was a member of Sigma Tau Nu, tutored in the learning center, worked at the library and volunteered at the YMCA.
“If you needed help, it was easy to get it, and small classes meant I had to jump in and do it,” Schlarb said. “So at Cooper, I wasn’t afraid to learn and ask questions.”
Developing relationships and interacting with people helped him prepare for a career in management because, for Schlarb, working at Cooper is just as much about the people as it is the science.
“Scientists need lab skills and people skills. You’ll always have to work together with someone,” he said. “I enjoy finding career paths for people. Being a manager is about people development, so I help people find opportunities at Cooper to grow and perhaps find new roles.”
Schlarb broke into management in the Reinforcement Materials Group, which works on the structural components of tires. His transition into a manager role was a humbling experience because he was managing people who knew more about the area than he did.
“You can’t micromanage something you don’t know,” he said. “I was there to empower people to do their jobs.”
He was surprised by how much he enjoyed m management. He found himself focusing on different topics, answering many types of questions, and experiencing different parts of the company.
“Management works better when you ask, ‘What do you need me to do so you can do your job better?’ instead of ‘You need to do it like this.’”
He moved up yet again into senior management over the entire materials development group, going from managing chemists to managing managers.
“It was a shift in the scope of my responsibility – less science, more business,” he said. “Now, I don’t need the detailed chemistry behind every project. I try to remove roadblocks and maneuver through the politics for my team.”
Though his responsibilities have changed many times, some things remain the same. He likes the people, he likes the product and he likes the challenging environment.
“I help my team and try to do the best I can do in whatever job I’m in and it’s all worked out,” he said. “I always believed if you do good work, people will recognize it.”