Q: With so much high-volume, small-part, high-assembly-content work going overseas, possibly never to return, where are the pockets of opportunity on the shores of North America, for both processors and tooling makers?
A: I think that in both cases, it goes back to this theme that toolmakers need, through technology, to increase their productivity [and] lower their costs so that they remain competitive. Processors, likewise, need to do the same thing. They probably have to select more complex and challenging types of business, whether it's toolmaking or parts, [since] clearly the simplest of parts and tools are going to be more vulnerable than the more complex parts and tools.
Q: Can we expect Bemis Contract Group to expand overseas anytime soon?
A: One of the things I would have more interest in ... is to support our [original equipment manufacturer customers] on a more global basis, either with manufacturing facilities ourselves or [via] joint ventures with other molders in, for example, Europe and China. That would have more of an appeal to me - following our customers. [He mentioned, for example, places such as the Czech Republic and Hungary.]
Q: Can we expect any announcements in the foreseeable future?
A: Nope (laughs). We're busy ... our business is growing very rapidly. As it relates to the OEM business, we're trying to maintain a growth rate in the neighborhood of 15-25 percent per year.
Q: Have you been achieving that - even in this economy?
A: Yes ... by bringing value [to our customers] in product design and cost-effective technology, we've been able to do that. Of course, the challenge is to continue to attempt to reinvent ourselves, so we continue to bring that value going forward.
Q: Speaking of innovation, your 6,600-ton coinjection molding machine ... what kind of doors has that opened for you?
A: The 6,600-ton has made available to us industry segments that before were just not injection molding applications, and can now be considered injection molding applications. One of the examples I can think of is the truck industry, for the skins and close-out panels on large trucks.
Q: Are you doing some of those now, or are you just targeting those?
A: We're targeting those right now, and investigating that industry segment and trying to learn more about this segment - what its needs are, what needs aren't being met today, so that we can fashion our strategy.
Q: That would take you into head-to-head competition with companies such as Mack [Molding Co.], on the large-part side, wouldn't it?
A: Right. But Mack does some pretty neat stuff. We sort of like the idea of competing with well-managed companies. It makes us better.
Q: Your company's progressive approach to employee empowerment is well-documented. Can you comment on this, and perhaps offer advice to others who don't have the same vision?
A: Well, to me, this seems so fundamental and so basic. But I feel that a manager is going to make the best decision when it's based on knowledge. So then it's a question of how do I acquire knowledge in order to make good decisions.
Well, I have to look outside of Bemis, but I also have to look inside and find out from our employees what decisions in the past have worked and which ones have not worked in order to improve the quality of the decision making. And it seems so intuitive, that it's hard for me to sometimes understand why people are not a lot more anxious to do that than they sometimes appear.
Q: How do you feel about the industry trade association leadership as it is now? You have had some strong opinions about the old Society of the Plastics Industry days.
A: My sense is that the various organizations that represent the industry ... have a much clearer view today of the importance of working in a cooperative effort with one another, recognizing ... that we are all dependent on one another to succeed.
Q: Are they doing a good job of executing this?
A: It could always be better, but I think that, generally speaking, it's far and away improved, compared to as little as three to four years ago.
Q: Is there something more that should be done at the trade-association level regarding things such as the re-engineering process that needs to take place, or in dealing with the threat from China?
A: I think one of the things that can always be improved is that, as an industry, we need to have the government leaders understand the importance of maintaining a strong industrial base in this country, and to have them sensitive to the fact that the U.S. can be globally competitive, but needs the government's help to make sure that we're competing on a somewhat level playing field. [This] is a huge challenge for our government. But I think it's something that's essential to maintaining a lifestyle that we've become accustomed to in this country.
Q: That falls, obviously, to the industry to promote itself and to educate lawmakers. Is enough being done in this area?
A: A lot is being done, but I think a lot more could be done. And it's got to come from individual companies, it's got to come from trade organizations, it has to come from the media. So the responsibility ... falls on our whole industry, to heighten the awareness of the importance of not only our industry, but of the whole manufacturing base in this country. Sometimes I think politicians may not recognize the ripple effect or the potential danger of losing our industrial base.
Q: What do you think of the plan for a plastics pavilion at Epcot in Disney World?
A: It's a neat opportunity for our industry. It's a chance to both strut our stuff to show the strength of the plastics industry, and hopefully improve the overall image of the industry, and make careers in the plastics industry more attractive. It's an exciting thing for us. We have to [seize the opportunity], and I think we will. There's been some tremendous leadership from some materials suppliers that really helped jump-start the whole concept. And I'm supportive of it, and hope others are going to jump on the bandwagon and support it, as well. It's a good excuse to go to Disneyland!