CHICAGO (June 22, 10:45 a.m. EDT) — John R. Kretzschmar has been called a “compulsive organizer.”
His list of organizations is, indeed, a long one: president of the Society of Plastics Engineers in 1987, current president of the Plastics Pioneers Association, former member of the Society of Plastics Industry Inc.'s board of directors and an organizer of the Ohio Plastics Summit events. He was a founder of Blako Industries Inc., an Ohio film extruder.
“I got the reputation as an organizer and getting things done,” said Kretzschmar, known for his trademark bow ties and outgoing personality. He's the one shaking hands and introducing himself to new people.
He'll be shaking a lot of hands in Chicago this week, as Kretzschmar gets inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame.
“Kretzsch” and his wife, Sue, sold their house a year ago and moved into a condominium on a golf course in Bowling Green, Ohio. Guess what? Kretzschmar is president of the condo committee. After a Sunday morning interview for this story, he declined an invitation for lunch because he had a meeting. “We used up too much money in snow plowing, and now we've got to get ready to cut grass,” he said with a chuckle.
The social graces come easily for Kretzschmar, 70. A native of St. Joseph, Mo., he started selling resin for Spencer Chemical Co. in 1956, after earning a chemical engineering degree from the University of Missouri. His boss, Fred Sutro, took him to his first SPE meeting.
His career was interrupted by an ROTC commitment to serve three years as an Air Force navigator on C-124 Globemaster transport planes. He was discharged in 1960 with the rank of captain.
Returning to Spencer, he sold resin in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. After a brief stint selling industrial lime and limestone, Kretzschmar wanted to return to plastics, so he became one of the first plastics salesmen for Rexall Drug & Chemical Co. The company later was called Rexene Polymers, now part of Huntsman Corp.
Working out of Chicago, he pitched polyethylene, polypropylene, ABS and polystyrene in a four-state region. They promoted him to sales supervisor and district manager. That's when Kretzschmar picked up his reputation as an organizer.
“I ran good sales meetings. Highly organized, to the point. So I kind of pride myself on that,” he said.
Rexall promoted him to national sales manager, based at company headquarters in Paramus, N.J.
Kretzschmar decided to leave corporate America and start a custom blown film maker. He knew film. “When I was at Rexene, 80 percent of our low density PE was sold to the film industry. In those days, film was growing 20, 25 percent a year, and you thought there was no end in sight for packaging,” he said.
He had sold resin in Ohio, and decided there was a void in the region. “So we targeted on Toledo, and really the market between Pittsburgh and Chicago and Michigan,” he said. A rail siding made Dunbridge, halfway between Toledo and Bowling Green, an attractive location. “Blako still is really the only blown film custom extruder right around here,” he said.
Kretzschmar and three other investors formed the company in 1970. He jokingly calls it getting “promoted into poverty.”
“We started Blako on two nickels. We did everything the bankers hate. We were underfinanced and expanded too fast. Bankers don't like to hear that, but we were successful.”
Kretzschmar hired technical people to run production. He was president and was the only Blako salesman for the first five years or so. He ended up buying his partners out.
Blako was small, with never more than 36 employees running eight blown film lines. But the company made a name for itself as a specialty short-run film processor.
When linear low density PE came out in the 1980s, Blako was one of the first to try it. Kretzschmar became an instant “expert.” The Cleveland section of SPE hired a cruise ship to England for a plastics show. “They conned me into giving a talk about linear low for blown film extruders,” he said. After the speech, Sid Gross, then editor of Modern Plastics, praised him and asked for a copy.
“I said, 'Sid, there is no copy. I did it from notes.' I told him I run a small company and we don't have time for secretaries to write speeches,” he recalled.
Blako also was first custom film extruder to buy a state-of-the-art Optifil P. automatic gauge-reining line from Windmoeller & Hoelscher.
Blako kept Kretzschmar busy, but he always made time for volunteering. He became president of SPE's Toledo Section in 1974, then moved up to positions at the national SPE.
As SPE president, he was named to the Plastics Hall of Fame Coordinating Committee, working with industry leaders of what would be renamed the Plastics Academy. Today he is chairman of the Plastics Academy
He also was very active outside of the plastics industry. He served as president and board member of the local Rotary Club. He has been president of the Junto Club, a group that fosters town-gown relations between the city and Bowling Green State University. He was a board member of the Falcon Club, the university's athletics booster organization.
Kretzschmar was a trustee of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, and president of the chamber's Manufacturers' Council.
He served on the board of Lutheran Social Services for six years, and was president of St. Marks Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. And, yes, he taught Sunday school for 13 years.
Kretzschmar sold Blako to three key employees in 1996 and started S&K Sales Consultants. He's one of those people for whom selling the company meant more time to volunteer. But he also placed a high priority on volunteering while he ran Blako.
“That was Saturday morning work,” he said. “I'd try to work hard during the week, but Saturday mornings I'd do my SPE work or do the volunteer work. The phone's not ringing, and you've got everything there.”
With Kretzschmar, you can't forget about golf. As chairman of the Rules Committee, Kretzschmar is called on to make rulings at tournaments. Since 1982, he has served as a director for the Western Golf Association. As WGA president in 2000-01, he played in a pro-am foursome with Tiger Woods.
The job isn't all about working with celebrity golfers, however. Kretzschmar, who caddied as a boy, is most proud of WGA's Evans Scholars Foundation, which raises college scholarship money for caddies. “When I was president of Western Golf, we raised $8 million for caddy scholarships in one year,” he said.
Being a caddy is hard work. Kretzschmar appreciates people who pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
“I'm the oldest of six boys. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. We all worked our way through college. I bet my dad didn't give me $20 in four years. We had a paper route. We caddied,” he said.