3D Printing Spotlight On: Vicki Holt, President and CEO, Proto Labs

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As President and CEO of Proto Labs, Vicki Holt has led the company in year-over-year double digit growth, maintaining a year-over-year average of 27% growth since 2012. In what has perhaps been one of her biggest contributions to Proto Labs, she led the introduction of 3D printing to the company in 2014, which boosted revenue by 160%.

A true leader both within Proto Labs and in the larger manufacturing industry, Holt frequently discusses the pace of innovation and how digital technology will separate those who succeed from those who fall behind. She’s a strong advocate for the use of 3D printing technology in design and manufacturing, and we were given an opportunity to talk to her for our Spotlight on Women series.

Tell us a bit about your background, history and current work. 

“I have 38 years of experience in manufacturing with companies such as Monsanto Company, the Solutia spin-off from Monsanto and PPG Industries. I currently have the pleasure of being part of the Proto Labs team where we are reinventing manufacturing using a technology enabled, e-commerce digital manufacturing model. Our digital manufacturing ecosystem helps a variety of designers from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 companies reduce time during the product development lifecycle to meet market demand and reduce barriers for innovation.”

When did you first learn about 3D printing? 

“I have been following 3D printing for more than a decade, but have only had first-hand experience with the technology since 2014 when Proto Labs acquired Fineline, a leading 3D Printing manufacturing services company. Since then, we have rapidly expanded our offerings for customers in the U.S. and across the globe with the 2015 acquisition of Alphaform, a 3D printing company in Germany, as well as with the opening of our 77,000-square foot 3D printing facility in Cary, North Carolina last year. Proto Labs is seeing strong double-digit growth in 3D printing year after year, and we continue to support a growing customer demand for 3D-printed parts.

We are also currently working as a foundational test partner for HP’s new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology and are excited to see how this technology will create a faster path to end-use production parts via 3D printing.”

What drew you to the manufacturing industry? What are some of its rewards and challenges?

“This is an exciting time to be in manufacturing. From the latest developments in 3D printing, to the innovations in ‘traditional’ processes, manufacturing is a catalyst for our entire economy. Product innovation is changing the way we work and interact with technology. New jobs are also creating opportunities for technology-enabled positions. For example, new developments in 3D printing give design engineers very broad design flexibility, supporting a new wave of products and materials that are changing the world around us.”

[Image: Thomas Strand, Forbes]

As a woman in a high-level position in the tech industry, do you feel your experience has been different than that of a man in a similar position? 

“Everyone has different experiences in their career and brings in a variety of perspectives. I have been very fortunate to have had an opportunity to work with some outstanding leaders, mentors and coaches. I have also been a part of, and worked with, phenomenal leadership teams. I have been incredibly blessed by the breadth of experiences I have had and the talent of executives with whom I have had a chance to work.”

What do you think are some of the unique qualities women can bring to manufacturing and tech? 

“In our digital world, it is even more important to create connections with people to drive engagement and commitment. Women have an opportunity to lead in this digital economy by creating connections with employees, customers, channel partners and communities.”

Why do you think there is a gender gap in manufacturing and tech? What is the biggest obstacle to having more diversity in these fields?

“As a manufacturing community, we need to help women understand that there are a tremendous number of exciting and rewarding careers in manufacturing.  This is even more true as information technology, software and hardware collide. Women represent 50% of the talent in the world, but only 27% of the jobs in manufacturing. We need to change this.”

What advice would you give to women considering careers in tech or manufacturing, or to girls interested in pursuing STEM fields?

“Do it! This is the most exciting time to be part of manufacturing. The technology is changing rapidly and there will be tremendous opportunities to grow, learn and create a fruitful career.  Making important connections is critical in a technology-enabled world. Embrace technology: learn about different and emerging technologies and consider how they can make a difference in your business; And, finally, focus on the big picture: in a connected, digital manufacturing ecosystem, opportunities for value and differentiation may come from unexpected places.  Keep your eyes and ears open across your ecosystem and organization.”

Do you have any advice for women pursuing leadership positions? 

“My advice and recommendations in the question above also hold true for women in leadership positions, and other roles across a manufacturing organization.”

The manufacturing industry can certainly benefit from increased diversity, just as much as it can benefit from 3D printing technology. If Holt has anything to do with it, we’ll soon see more of both. Share your thoughts in the Vicki Holt forum at

If you are interested in sharing your story, or know a woman we should get in touch with for this series, please reach out any time. Send us an email or connect on Twitter. We’re looking forward to sharing more stories about women in 3D printing. Find all the features in this series here.


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