Three years ago, Composites Manufacturing magazine launched the B.E.S.T. recognition program, spotlighting some of the Bright, Energetic, Skilled, Trailblazers in our industry. This year, we recognize 11 amazing professionals, all nominated by readers for their contributions to composites. The winners profiled here include professors, researchers, managers and custom fabricators. They advance cutting-edge technology, supply innovative materials and manufacture state-of-the-art products. Some are industry veterans, while others represent the future of composites. They all are dedicated to and passionate about the industry.

Jake Axel
Hometown: New Rochelle, N.Y.
Alma Mater: Brandeis University
Age: 32
Hobby: Reading about business and investing

axelJake Axel is the third generation of his family to run AXEL Plastics in Woodside, N.Y. His grandfather founded the company in 1941, and his father began working there in 1974. Axel, who recalls running around the factory as a kid, worked at the family business during the summers and joined full time in 2002.

The company serves the plastic and rubber industries designing, manufacturing and marketing innovative mold release agents, process aid additives, mold cleaners and sealants. Axel began a two-year training program at AXEL Plastics after graduating from Brandeis University. He worked in every department, from manufacturing to customer service and accounting. “A lot of next-generation employees get put into family businesses without a good understanding of its operations,” he says. “The training provided me insight into what we do and how we do it.”

Axel was named vice president in 2004 and he took over as president in 2009. “We spend a lot of time thinking about where the industry is going and how to make products more efficient,” says Axel, who earned an MBA from Columbia University in 2011.

The young executive is concerned about the industry as a whole, too. He is very involved with ACMA, serving on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, as membership chairman of the Pultrusion Industry Council, co-chair of the Communications Committee, and in other capacities. Axel and his wife have a baby daughter, they will soon be moving to Connecticut.

Dave Denny
Hometown: Peru, Ind.
Alma Mater: Southwestern University
Age: 67
Hobbies: Gardening and fishing

DennyDave Denny began working in composites in 1970, and with the exception of a two-year stint in the steel industry, he’s been there ever since. His introduction to composites was with Rockwell International, when it bought the automotive division of Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG) and he joined the operations team.

“When I got into composites, you didn’t have robots and SMC was just coming into its own,” says Denny. “You saw great room for improvements and areas of dynamic change.” He worked primarily on Ford L-series trucks. “New technology and processes were going to a major customer — Ford,” recalls Denny. “It was an interesting, hard-working time.”

In 1978, Denny joined Premix Inc., where he served in many roles until the company was sold in 1994. Among the highlights of his career at Premix, Denny established a development center to expand the use of SMC in automotive and launched a structural thermoset bumper beam facility to replace steel General Motors products. Larry Dickinson Hometown: Hickory, N.C. Alma Mater: North Carolina State University Age: 45 Hobby: Mountain biking Larry Dickinson’s interest in composites was sparked as a student at North Carolina State University. He entered a competition for an oral technical presentation and was unsure about a topic. “My undergraduate advisor suggested three-dimensional textile composites,” says Dickinson. “I’ve been hooked on those as high-tech materials ever since.” Denny has worked with all 16 MFG entities. Under his guidance, the company grew approximately 400 percent.

In 1995, Denny moved to MFG in Ashtabula, Ohio, as executive vice president and COO. Under his guidance, the company grew approximately 400 percent. He has worked with all 16 MFG entities, helping to launch two wind blade facilities and a wind turbine component operation.

Throughout his career Denny made time to give back to the community. He helped bring a symphony to Lancaster, Ohio, and served on boards for banks, hospitals and churches. Denny, who lives in a golf community in Pinehurst, N.C., will retire at the end of this year. “I have so many interests there will be no problem filling my time,” says the industry veteran. He enjoys gardening, fishing and showing off his Corvette in a local car club. Denny also dotes on his four daughters and five grandchildren.