Environmental causes reignite retired Schad

Comments Email Print

Robert Schad wants to make one thing clear: He's keeping busy since retiring last year from Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., the company he founded in 1953.

``I'm doing all kinds of things,'' he said. ``I spend a bit more time with my family. I'm very, very busy. It's harder for me now to get an hour out with somebody than it was when I worked at Husky.''

Schad, 77, now can devote more time to his other passion besides Husky - environmental issues.

``With all the things that are happening, such as global warming, such as deforestation, such as the fisheries - I mean, wherever you look there's a disaster. I recognize that [the environment] is the most important issue that we're facing today.''

As the ``footprint'' of humanity gets bigger, as more people around the world buy cars and boost consumption, Schad thinks there could be a coming collapse.

``The Earth can't handle it anymore. So it's going to happen,'' he said. ``We've lost about one-third of our species in the last hundred years. We're on the way to lose another 30 percent right now. And then comes the point where, with the interdependence of all these species, things will crash.''

Schad keeps in top shape by skiing and snowshoeing, playing tennis, riding a bicycle and traveling the world on environmental trips. Reflecting his love of all things mechanical, he often ties in visits to trade shows, like the last Chinaplas. He also keeps his engineering juices flowing by running a small company that makes airboats used for search and rescue operations.

Of course, Schad will be at NPE 2006, where he is being inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame. What else will he do in Chicago? ``I'm going to look at machines,'' he said.

These days, Schad spends most of his working life at Earth Rangers, a program he started that teaches schoolchildren about wildlife and environmental responsibility. He has an office at the Earth Rangers headquarters in Woodbridge, Ontario - about a 15-minute drive away from Husky in Bolton.

Schad is one of the most well-known personalities in the plastics machinery industry. A native of Germany, he emigrated to Canada, with $25 borrowed from an uncle and a letter from Albert Einstein, who his grandmother knew, vouching for young Robert's character.

In Toronto, he got a toolmaker's job and enrolled in night school. But he was bored in school and dropped out. He then got a job at Volkswagen of Canada, then met some people who wanted to build snowmobiles.

Schad started Husky in 1953 to build the Huskymobile, named after the Husky dog. Unfortunately, it only worked on asphalt, not snow.

Schad kept the Husky name for his tiny machine shop, which built molds, dies and fixtures. The company began to sell German-made Battenfeld injection presses in the early 1960s. Then he decided that Husky would get into machinery, by building a faster machine.

Husky's first machine came out in 1961: an electrically driven injection press with a toggle operated by a crank for clamping. The rest is plastics machinery history. In 2005, Husky employed 3,000-plus people worldwide and generated sales of US$860 million from injection presses, robots, PET preform molds and hot runners.

Gordon Lankton, co-chairman of Nypro Inc. in Clinton, Mass., nominated Schad for the Plastics Hall of Fame. He called Schad ``one of my favorite, most unforgettable characters.''

``He's one of the people I admire the most and it's primarily because of his enormous engineering capability,'' Lankton said. ``He is never satisfied with anything. He wants to make it better every day. And he can't walk through his plant without coming up with another engineering innovation. I've never been close to a person that's that good an engineer.''

Schad and his wife, Elizabeth, serve on Husky's board of directors. Schad and his family now control less than 50 percent of the shares in the publicly traded company. He regularly sells shares and gives the money to charity, including environmental causes like Earth Rangers.

As a company, Husky donates 5 percent of its pretax profit to charity.

Schad sat still long enough to discuss his career in an April 5 interview at the Earth Rangers building. The offices use natural lighting, saving electricity. The building uses a very energy-efficient heating and cooling system - a tread-lightly-upon-the-earth feature of every Husky building around the world. Earth Rangers has full rehabilitation facilities, including a sparkling clean, modern surgery room for sick or injured animals.

Schad, who spent his life building Husky for the long haul, now is working on the ultimate long-term challenge of protecting the environment.

``If you want to do something about society today, the environment is the most pressing issue,'' Schad said. The week of the interview, Time magazine ran a special report on global warming. On the cover: ``Be Worried. Be Very Worried.''

Always interested in the outdoors, Schad began his environmental enlightenment when he joined the World Wildlife Fund in the early 1980s. He wanted to make a contribution to something larger than Husky. ``I don't want to be completely single-track,'' he said.

He is a friend of dedicated environmentalists like Jane Goodall.

The Time report warned that global warming could accelerate. Schad said five years ago, the mainstream media never would have written such an alarming story.

``But all of a sudden they're waking up. It's almost irreversible already with global warming, but people have got it. And our governments have done very little or nothing. So I see real, real problems coming up. This is why I am now focusing on children with my charity: to help children to build a better future. To get them enthused about doing something about the situation, asking how can I help? What can I do?''

He sometimes goes along with Earth Rangers' staff on school trips, but only as an observer to see how the children receive the curriculum.

In the past, Schad has opened himself to criticism by fighting for controversial causes, such as lobbying to end Ontario's spring bear hunt. Now he is focusing on more-nonconfrontational efforts like Earth Rangers.

But he does agree with environmentalists fighting to end Canada's current hot-button issue: the seal hunt in fishing communities of Newfoundland and Labrador. Although not actively involved, he doesn't mince words: ``It's something like part of culture, like your slave trade was part of culture. You had a Civil War. It's bad.''

Schad also has strong feelings about the Kyoto Protocol global-warming treaty. ``Mr. Bush doesn't understand yet what global warming is,'' he said.

The United States refused to sign the agreement. Canada did sign, but Schad said the country is balking at some of its provisions. Schad thinks Kyoto is not strong enough. ``But even the conservative approach of the Kyoto Protocol appears to be radical'' to governments, he said.

And Schad said Canada is no more ``green'' than the United States. Sure, Canada has huge swaths of undeveloped land, but that means Canadians still have not outgrown the frontier mentality - thinking there always will be more natural resources, timber, oil and natural gas to exploit.

Environmentalists are watching the extraction of Alberta's oil sands deposits, which have turned Calgary into a western Canadian boomtown. Schad said it will be important to do a proper cleanup to restore the environment.

Schad continues to follow the plastics industry. He can pop over to Husky, or have Husky people come over to Earth Rangers, or e-mail drawings back and forth. He is available to hash out technology ideas. But Schad only goes to Bolton a couple of hours a week.

``I don't have a desk anymore. I don't have a chair anymore,'' he said.

Does Schad miss running Husky? ``No, I don't miss it. I've done it for over 50 years, and I am very, very happy the way John [Galt] is running it.''

Schad praised Galt, his successor and the new president and chief executive officer.

``I'm very impressed, and I'm also realizing a lot of things that I did not do when I was at Husky, now that I'm out. I always thought I was a good operator. I realize I was not a good operator. My idea was technical ideas, innovation, strategy. But John is a much better operator than I ever was,'' he said.

Schad has said that the plastics machinery sector is burdened with too much capacity. Now, he said, it's getting even tougher.

``The Chinese are coming out with pretty good machinery, and it won't take long. They're targeting Japanese standards that they want to reach, and they have good access to technology and they're smart people. Costs, prices are going down.''

Schad thinks that, eventually, there will be a few major global players.

Schad shows the intensity, the zest, that he displayed at Husky. Has he mellowed? That's something else he wants to make clear.

``I personally think I mellowed, but I hope I don't mellow too much, and not too fast,'' he said with a chuckle.

Most Popular