In this issue we name the finalists for the Plastics News 2002 Processor of the Year Award, now in its seventh year. We will reveal the winner Jan. 27 during our Executive Forum 2003 in Phoenix, and profile the winner in a front-page story Feb. 3. You can see further details on Page 1 about this year's finalists: Inland Tech- nologies Inc., Miniature Precision Components Inc., Precise Technology Inc. and Tech Group Inc.
We get many questions about how we select the award winner. As I've been involved since day one, allow me to explain the process, which is a lot of fun for those of us involved.
Every year, I'm surprised by the amount of work some companies put into their award nomination. After all, we ask them to detail accomplishments in seven criteria, covering just about every aspect of running a company: finances, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environment, public service and technological innovation.
We learn about the inner workings of interesting companies every year. Visiting the finalists is the best part. We get to spend a day with some of the world's very best plastics companies, which is uplifting in these times of turmoil in manufacturing.
The process for the current award began in mid-2002. This is a very hands-on project for our editorial staff, which controls the entire process. We don't farm it out, like some other business publications. Just like with our various annual processor rankings, when it comes to this award, Plastics News does the work.
While we don't use outside firms to handle the judging, this year we did recruit some help on the financial performance criteria from Ernst & Young Corporate Finance Inc. in Montreal, our new co-sponsor for the award. Companies making the initial cut were asked a few questions involving debt, cash flow and capital investment, and the experts at Ernst & Young put together some ratios for us to study. This information, which will be kept confidential, improved our editorial judges' ability to do financial analysis.
So what exactly are we looking for? Why don't we send out formal questionnaires? I get asked that a lot. I respond somewhat like an ``English 101'' professor: Try to follow directions and write something about all seven criteria. How long should it be? Long enough to cover the topic adequately. Make your case.
One reason we leave it open-ended is because we also like to gauge how much effort a company puts into its entry. The submission doesn't have to be written in masterly fashion, or even in complete sentences. Short and sweet is fine, as long as you provide specific information about all seven areas. Most companies name one person to coordinate, then farm each area out to the specialists in human resources, the financial department and others.
One thing we learned right away: Any contest judging boils down to a process of elimination, whether you're judging for Processor of the Year or for Miss America. First, I read through all submissions and make the initial cut. We trim the list down to a manageable number, then assign each remaining company to a staff reporter for further research.
The reporter asks follow-up questions, calls customers, analysts and competitors. Our Washington-based reporter, Steve Toloken, checks out each company's public records with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
We then hold a several-hour meeting to share our findings and decide on the finalists. As you might expect, this involves a series of tough choices. It can be very, very close, as it was this year.
Initially, we just named a winner only, but a couple of years ago we decided to begin naming finalists, as well, to give a greater number of worthy companies their due. This provided us with the opportunity to generate some suspense and drama leading up to the ceremony at which we announce the winner.
I still remember the night at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., at our 2000 Executive Forum, when Jim De Zen accepted the award for Royal Group Technologies Ltd., then pulled out his cell phone and excitedly called his father, Vic De Zen, in Canada.
As I always tell people, we don't feed data into a computer that then spits out a winner. Our method, while extremely work-intensive, is fairer, more complete and certainly much more fun.