Even after 40-plus years in her career, Mary Lehrter said each day still brims with the possibility of discovery — and that energizes her. She’s driven by a constant curiosity.
Lehrter retired from a long, successful career with Procter & Gamble, and the very next day she started her passion project: creating a low density, high calcium-carbonate material that later became the core technology for Cincinnati-based Okeanos. Its Made From Stone technology substitutes calcium carbonate for traditional resin at the source, reducing plastic and CO2 emissions, according to Okeanos’ website.
As Okeanos’ vice president of process innovation, Lehrter leads “a team of technical sales representatives and engineers who are responsible for activating our technology in plastic manufacturing facilities worldwide.” Her favorite part of the job, she said, “will always be the innovation and discovery.”
“In a startup, there’s always a temptation to migrate to the ‘shiny object’ in the room,” she said. “We tend to get excited about the endless possibilities and applications for our technology, and we launch into projects, until the next incredible thing comes along to distract us. That new applications or improvements are always around the next corner is a great challenge to have, but we have to harness our focus first.”
Lehrter studied medical technology at the University of Cincinnati and engineering and business at Mount Saint Joseph University. She also has a teaching certification in Ohio, where she briefly taught middle school chemistry, as well as seven patents.
When she started at P&G, there were few or zero women working in product engineering, she said.
“They all seemed to want a more consumer ‘nurturing’ role, so most of them went into process development, where they did things like consumer research, and for a long time, I was the only woman in my group,” she said. When she transferred to the paper team, there were two other women. When she was sent out to plants, she would be the only woman in the room — “all of the operators, management, scientists were men.”
“However, I feel like I might have broken the mold because by the time I left P&G,” she said, “we’d gone from one other woman on my team to female engineers and several women taking on leadership roles in management.”
Lehrter said her biggest failures have pushed her to think harder, utilize the resources around her and confer with colleagues who are also experts, as “collaboration is the key to success.”
“Stand strong in your convictions. Your technical curiosity is the path forward,” Lehrter advised. “Do not take no for an answer if you really think you have an idea that can lead to a game-changer.”