Plastics News has picked three finalists for its annual Processor of the Year Award: packaging giant Berry Plastics Corp., Vermont-based custom injection molder Mack Molding Co., and Innovative Injection Technologies Inc. of Iowa, a finalist for the award last year.
The winner will be announced Feb. 27 in San Diego, Calif., at the Plastics News Executive Forum. The finalists and winner will be honored at a ceremony and reception that evening. The following morning, a senior executive from each finalist company will take the stage in a best-practices panel discussion.
Plastics News will profile the winning processor in the March 12 issue.
Now in its 11th year, the award honors excellent, well-rounded companies by examining seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental performance, industry and public service, and technological innovation. The 2006 winner was U.S. Farathane Corp. of Sterling Heights, Mich.
The judges are members of the PN editorial staff. Ernst & Young Corporate Finance (Canada) Inc. co-sponsors the award, and helped analyze the financial performance of the nominees.
Here is a look at the finalists, in alphabetical order:
Berry Plastics Corp.
Based in Evansville, Ind., Berry has grown from an injection molder of aerosol overcaps to become one of the world's largest manufacturers of packaging, serving a who's who list of consumer products powerhouses, including Procter & Gamble Co., Kraft Foods Co. and Unilever NV.
Berry's sales have nearly tripled in the past three years, from $552 million in 2003 to a projected $1.45 billion in 2006. The company has generated average annual sales growth of 21 percent since 1999, according to PN ranking data.
Earlier this year, Berry was purchased by private equity funds Apollo Management LP - which also owns the former Tyco Plastics and Adhesives Group - and Graham Partners Inc. The funds are the latest in a string of financial buyers to own Berry.
During the ownership changes, and through all of Berry's own acquisitions, one constant has been top management. Ira Boots, president and chief executive officer, has worked at Berry since 1978.
An official at one major customer said everything ran very smoothly under the changes at Berry. He praised Berry for being a customer-focused, innovative company. Comments like that are one reason Berry scored high in the customer relations category.
The judges also gave Berry points under employee relations for its frequent, creative programs to reward people for continuous improvement and hard work. Also, each employee gets 20 hours of training per year.
Berry was nominated by Bob Shah, a financial manager at the company.
Mack Molding Co.
Mack was a finalist for the Processor of the Year Award in 1999, but did not win. Now Mack is back, a very different company.
As the new millennium began, Mack faced a big question: Could the custom injection molder and contract manufacturer, owned by the debt-averse Kendall family, change gears as its major customers - makers of computers and business equipment like servers and mass storage devices - moved offshore? Mack, based in Arlington, Vt., had no plans to open a plant in China and, according to company officials, still does not.
Could Mack survive?
Six years later, the answer clearly is yes.
Mack executives presented the problem to Don Kendall, president and chief executive officer. He was supportive. The company faced the truth and has worked hard to reposition itself for the future.
Now the company is a strong player in markets as diverse as medical devices, furniture, very large truck parts, recreational and utility vehicles and big-screen televisions.
Although nothing is certain in these global-economy times, Mack appears to have forged itself into a major player in that holy grail of U.S. processing - work that is not moving to China.
The judges gave Mack high marks for quality, thanks to a very low rate of defects. Mack also scored for good customer relations, and one key reason is up-front product design. Mack is a frequent winner of the parts competition at the Alliance of Plastics Processors conferences, formerly the Structural Plastics Division of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Customers contacted by the judges said Mack builds strong relationships. ``They have been willing - are not afraid - to take risks. Mack comes to us with ideas,'' said a group manager at one customer.
Mack has good employee programs that encourage exercise, including on-site fitness centers that are free to employees and their families.
Proof that Mack is a good place to work came in April, when Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas and the Vermont Department of Labor gave Mack the Governor's Workplace Safety Award.
Mack Molding was nominated by Julie Horst, the company's communications director.
After reaching the finalist's circle last year, the company known as i2Tech of West Des Moines, Iowa, is back to try again for the PN award.
The company is owned by Robert Janeczko and his son, Josh. In 2003, they bought the operation from Morton Industrial Group. The elder Janeczko was a Morton executive. For years, the company was known as Mid-Central Plastics Inc.
The new owners revamped the company, adding a strong dose of openness with its 140 employees. Executives hold monthly meetings with every worker on all shifts to cover issues like safety and performance and explain a gain-sharing program that puts money in their pockets each month if the company meets its targets.
For its progressive human resources policies, the judges gave i2Tech strong marks for employee relations.
The judges also like i2Tech's well-rounded, balanced approach, taking into account customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and the community in making major business decisions. Those decisions include some major-league capital spending, especially $3 million invested in 2004 for infrastructure improvements and new presses, including a 3,000-ton Husky Quadloc press that molds a hood-fender-grille component, with molded-in graphics, for an all-terrain vehicle from Arctic Cat Inc.
Sales reached $26.7 million in 2005, a 10 percent gain from 2004. In the past year, i2Tech gained two major new customers and hit record tool changes of 81 per week. The molder has been profitable for 13 straight quarters-another record, and a reason the judges rewarded 12Tech under the area of financial performance.
Deere & Co. has been a major customer, since the old Mid-Central days. Deere remains i2Tech's largest customer, but the company has won new business from other customers to become more diversified.
Both Deere and Arctic Cat have given i2Tech numerous applied awards. Customers said good things. ``We want to build relationships and build supply partners, and this is the sense I get from i2Tech,'' said an official at one customer that used i2Tech to mold parts for a major product launch. ``We feel like they're going to take care of us.''
Two suppliers nominated i2Tech for the award-Gary A. Foote, president of Technical Polymers LLC, a compounder in Buford, Ga.; and Bob Rozankovic, sales manager of R and R Tool and Mold Inc. in La Salle, Ontario.