FAIRLAWN, OHIO — Bernard Rzepka's schedule for his first year as CEO of compounding leader A. Schulman Inc. does not include reinventing the wheel.
Rzepka, a 22-year-veteran of Fairlawn-based Schulman, will become CEO of the firm on Jan. 1, replacing Joseph Gingo, who will retire. Gingo oversaw a great deal of change in his seven years leading Schulman, moving the once-passive company to make 10 acquisitions and steering it through the recession.
“I believe in evolution, not revolution,” Rzepka, 54, said during a recent interview in Fairlawn. “I worked with Joe [Gingo] for seven years, so I'm not saying something very different. The company is on a good track. We'll focus more on improving execution and commit to our five-year plan where we expect significant growth.”
Rzepka added that his approach will include sticking to Schulman's three “s” guidelines — safety, smart sales and smart savings.
Rzepka joined Schulman in Germany in 1998, and had served as the firm's executive vice president and chief operating officer since April 2013. Previous positions held by Rzepka at Schulman include general manager of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region and managing director of Germany. Prior to joining Schulman, Rzepka worked for ICI Advanced Materials for five years in Europe.
Some of the changes made under Gingo's watch will continue with Rzepka in the corner office.
“We're not a commodity supplier anymore,” Rzepka said. “We used to be a big supplier to automotive, but now we're a niche supplier to that market. We took 40 percent of our commodity business out.”
And future investments could take Schulman beyond its compounding base.
“We have an expanded vision,” Rzepka said. “We're not just a compounder — we're a material solution company. We're going to look at markets like specialty chemicals and polymer additives, markets that have added value.”
Schulman is heading in the right direction as Rzepka takes over. Sales for the firm's 2014 fiscal year — ended Aug. 31 — grew almost 15 percent to more than $2.4 billion, while profit more than doubled to almost $57 million.
On Wall Street, Schulman's per-share stock price was under $30 in early October as part of a broad market selloff, but since has recovered and was at $37 in mid-November.
Schulman employs 3,900 worldwide and ranks as a leading compounder and concentrate maker in North America and Europe. Its resin distribution unit ranks as one of Europe's largest as well.