A Woodstock business is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and things have never looked better. But in July 2014, things were dire for Matrix 4, 610 E. Judd St.
“The business had failed. It didn’t have money. Didn’t have resources. Didn’t have a team,” said Patricia Miller, 34, who now runs the manufacturing company founded in 1976 by her grandfather Raymond Wenk Sr.
Wenk, a toolmaker, opened Matrix 4 in 1976 as a plastics company. When it began, it served primarily as a tooling and engineering business, and it made a lot of molds. But in its years in business, its focus shifted to manufacturing.
That change bothered Miller, who saw her grandfather’s company diminishing. She twice asked him if he needed help in turning it around, but he dismissed the thought and admitted he had no transition plans, Miller said.
Instead of joining the family business, Miller moved to England to work for British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the Labour Party’s headquarters. But she always has been attracted to the fast pace of the business world — she dropped politics when she saw it was too slow for her taste — and eventually moved on to Eli Lilly.
She was working for the global pharmaceutical company when, during a trip home to see her family, Miller decided to stop by the family business and see how the company was faring.
What she saw upset her. The finances were a wreck, and the business was in danger of folding.
Miller asked for help from friends who worked in consulting to see if she could turn things around, and in July 2014 — what she called the “11th hour” — she made the decision to move back home and take over Matrix 4.
“I treaded very lightly coming in, knowing we had limited time,” Miller said. “I didn’t even take an office for the first six months. I wanted my team to see that I was accessible and available, and I wanted their feedback.”
At the time, the company still was mostly focused on manufacturing. She wanted to shift back to the design side of the industry, doing the kinds of engineering and tooling work the company had specialized in when it started.
The turnaround has worked so far.
“We’re growing, we’re seeing progress. It doesn’t move as fast as I want it to. Manufacturing just moves slower,” Miller said. “It’s a much longer lead time. I believed in a vision and saw the need in the market and that we could build something unique. Once we started getting jobs in and new clients on board and getting feedback, that reinforced to me that we are on the right track.”
Currently the company produces around 50 products that are used in various applications spread over many industries, including household appliances and cosmetics.
Miller still brings home products and ideas to her grandfather for feedback, keeping him engaged in the company he founded 40 years ago.
“What I’ve missed is that he really led this place, and he knew everything,” Miller said. “He did things himself. There have been a few times where I think, ‘Gosh I wonder if I made the best decision.’ He’s always been such a cheerleader of mine, telling me I am doing the right thing, and it’s not easy, it will be difficult, it will take a few years, and there’s no one else that can do it.”