Shareholders approved Milacron Inc.'s refinancing package June 9, creating a more stable financial future. Now the attention turns to how leaders - like Karlheinz Bourdon - will move the machinery maker into that future.
Bourdon, a German who holds an advanced degree from the prestigious Institut fur Kunststoffverarbeitung (IKV) technical school in Aachen, is better-known in European plastics circles than North America - and Milacron Inc.'s vice president of plastics machinery technologies is working to change that.
Bourdon is an 11-year Milacron veteran. He was part of the package when Milacron, in 1993, bought the KlÃ¶ckner Ferromatik injection press factory in Malterdingen, Germany. In Europe, he is well-respected as a technical expert.
But to the U.S. market, a key region even as the Cincinnati-based company continues to globalize, Bourdon remains a ``new'' Milacron executive. Who is he? To find out, Plastics News sat down with Bourdon on April 27, before the Ohio Polymer Summit in Columbus, Ohio. He was joined by Jay Woerner, Milacron's vice president of global manufacturing and sourcing.
``I'm pretty familiar with the German/European market. Now I want to get more involved with the U.S. market here and our customers,'' Bourdon said.
Bourdon, 47, is one of a team of four top executives groomed by Harold Faig, Milacron's former president and chief operating officer. Last fall Faig took early retirement from the machinery maker to become the top executive of Tech Group Inc., a custom injection molder based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Bourdon oversees all machinery for Milacron, including injection molding, extrusion, blow molding and structural foam.
Milacron has weathered a crushing downturn in the U.S. market that slashed machinery sales in half. Business finally is starting to recover after more than three rough years. The vote at the annual shareholders meeting cemented the restructuring that shores up Milacron's balance sheet.
Bourdon, who grew up in Moers, Germany, outside of Dusseldorf, discussed employee morale, technology, outsourcing and his own machinery background in an hour-long interview:
Q: When you got promoted, you moved to Cincinnati with your new position, right?
Bourdon: Yes. My family still lives in Germany. But I spend, out of four weeks, three weeks here in the U.S.
Q: You studied at IKV. How did you get involved in plastics machinery?
Bourdon: I first went to the university at Aachen to study mechanical engineering. During that time I got in touch with IKV. And I liked the machinery. As a student I was there, I made the diploma thesis, and I decided, well, I will stay there another four years to do my Ph.D. thesis. That was a full-time job. I had several industrial projects and research and development projects, on machinery applications in plastics processing, very much focused on injection.
My Ph.D. was done in 1989. Before that, I got my mechanical engineering degree in 1985.
Q: In your position you are in charge of all machinery. You clearly have technical skills. Do you have sales experience too?
Bourdon: Yes. When I was working for Ferromatik in the first years, when I was responsible for engineering, I used to travel a lot with the sales force. To get in touch with the customers and to play that role that would give the credibility from the technical side. I lived in that sales world. So I was always between sales and the engineering part of it.
Also, Ferromatik always had a sales company in the U.S., so big customers like Gillette and other companies, I was familiar with already.
Q: That's not unusual in plastics, to have sales people with engineering experience and vice versa.
Bourdon: And that is very typical.
Q: When did you begin working for Ferromatik?
Bourdon: I joined Ferromatik in the beginning of 1992. And before that I worked a couple of years for Krauss-Maffei.
Q: Then a year after you started at Ferromatik, KlÃ¶ckner Werke AG sold it to Milacron. The pickup made Milacron more of a global player and gave it a strong position with multishot presses, including Ferromatik's expertise in revolving molds - a really hot area today.
Bourdon: I agree. I think it was a win for Milacron, and it was a win for Ferromatik. Because, Ferromatik belonged to the KlÃ¶ckner steel company before, and for them, it was no core business anymore. They had a different agenda. So we, as Ferromatik people at that time, we were glad to be acquired by a machinery company.
And for Milacron it was a good addition. First of all, geographically, because they bought this company with a complete worldwide sales network. For example, we had a sales company in South Africa. We had all Europe covered. And on the technology side, Ferromatik in Malterdingen always was very focused on high-speed packaging applications. They were also very specialized in the multicomponent machines.
Q: For Milacron, that was a new area, right?
Bourdon: At that time, they were focused on something different. It was very complementary.
Q: A few more questions on multicomponent molding, and spinning-stack technology. This was all the rage at NPE last year, but it still seems relatively rare in the United States.
Bourdon: Ferromatik plays a major role in that. I see one of my tasks [is] to bring this technology over to the U.S., to implement it here, and to apply it, especially with a little bit bigger machines. And my target would be the automotive industry. Because I know there are a lot of applications in the automotive industry where you can use this technology.
Q: Of course, the classic Ferromatik hand-out item is that little toy monkey, with moveable head, arms and legs. It's still amazing to think this is created by a single injection press.
Bourdon: The whole story of multicomponent technology was developed, along with a German mold maker, in the early '70s for Playmobil. It was the small monkey. That was the first big success and it's more than 30 years ago.
Q: The other top Milacron executives are David Lawrence running D-M-E and Robert McKee for the fluids business. Jay Woerner coordinates global manufacturing, including your operations in India and the new one in China. How do you work with Woerner?
Bourdon: Sometimes we have some strategic questions about all our manufacturing, like what will we produce, and where. And that is something that sometimes is even beyond the machinery business, because we have D-M-E mold technologies and fluids.
Woerner: The elements that cut across all the groups, whether it's sourcing or lean initiatives, or capital investment, things like that, we try to coordinate it to make sure we're doing it the most efficient way possible.
Q: Milacron recently announced a simple change that seems to make a lot of sense: bringing back the Cincinnati Milacron name for its U.S.-made injection presses. Was that your idea?
Bourdon: That's kind of true. I'm a strong believer in good brand names. And practically, even after so many years, everybody still talks about ``Cincinnatis.''
I think Cincinnati Milacron is a very good brand name and well-known, so why are we not using it? It doesn't mean at all that there would be less communication or cooperation between Europe and India in the U.S. It's just the opposite.
And it was done for both internal and external reasons. You know, certainly we got very good feedback from our customers, from the external side. But also, it was important for the organization itself, to give it a certain identity back. And everybody liked it.
Q: ``Cincinnati Milacron'' evokes pride in your employees, especially in Batavia, Ohio. Certainly questions surrounding the refinancing - and your major layoffs - impacted morale.
Bourdon: Yes. When a company goes through a situation like that, that is a very demanding situation. Though I have to say that the complete workforce of Milacron was totally dedicated to the work that they were supposed to do. And the workforce stood up to that task very well.
Woerner: We never lost anything. Part of the element was, as we approached the downsizing that we were trying to accomplish to match our volumes in the market, we approached them first with early retirements. People volunteered for that. To a large number, that was the first group that made the choice to go.
Q: Mr. Bourdon, you are introducing yourself to U.S. customers. But you also have to communicate with employees.
Bourdon: I talk a lot to the shop-floor people. Because I'm convinced, as a manager, you have to make sure that you have your direct connection with the place where the real value-added - in terms of building a machine or machining a part - is being done. You need this feedback.
Q: So if we go to your operation in Mount Orab, Ohio, and talk to some machinists, they're going to know who you are?
Q: We don't put much stock in Internet chat rooms, but here's an interesting one from Yahoo!'s finance page. The writer says employees ``have a lot of faith in this new guy from Germany'' then adds: ``But if he listens to the people that report to him then he is doomed. He needs to walk the floor and talk to the workers away from the bosses. He needs to go into the offices and see how things are done. Talk to some of the real workers, not the bosses or managers. Workers will tell him where the problems are.'' Does that sound like you?
Bourdon: That is my approach. You have to have a good relationship to the managers that work for you, but also - and sometimes it's even more important - you have to have a relationship with the workforce on the shop floor. Because then, you know, the loop is closed between the decisions you make, the execution you think is being done, and what is actually being done on the shop floor. You know if the decision you made is really executed the right way on the shop floor and been accepted by the people. So you need to talk to the people. And that's what I prefer to do. That's one of my management principles.