After stints with private-equity owned businesses and large cap organizations, Dan Fischer had demonstrated a keen ability to focus on not only where a company stands financially but where it can go.
That practical knowledge and good intuition then took him to CKS Packaging Inc., where after four years as chief financial officer he has managed to become a big asset for some of the most respected, experienced and private veterans in the plastics industry — Charles K. Sewell and his family.
Charles Sewell developed the first two-liter beverage container in 1977 for Coca-Cola Co. He also had helped popularize the plastic gallon jug for milk as owner of Sewell Plastics, which he sold in 1970. He founded CKS Packaging, his second, $300 million plus business, in 1985 with some of his former employees after his non-compete agreement expired.
“They thought OK, we'll start with a couple blow machines. We'll keep this small in one plant. And, 31 years later we're at about 300 blowing machines and we're 20 going to 22 locations,” Fischer said in a telephone interview about his role at the Atlanta-based business.
In addition to beverages, CKS makes containers for the food, consumer, chemical and automotive goods markets, using 225 million pounds of resin annually for customers like Coke, Dean Foods, Chick-Fil-A, Guardian Drug Co., Kroger and Borden. Sales now exceed $400 million a year and the Sewell family gives Fischer a lot of credit.
“Dan Fischer is the best CFO we have ever hired,” President/CEO John Sewell wrote on a nomination form seeking out the top financial managers in plastics.
Sewell also noted he was nominating Fischer at the urging of his father, 84, who has been in the plastics industry more than 50 years.
“Dan has helped us with several acquisitions, analyzed many more, is so strong on financial statements, ROI's, ratios, investments, working with banks, etc. Charles Sewell is giving this recommendation. For him to give anyone a recommendation is way out of his realm. We would put Dan up against any CFO in our industry.”
Preaching to the choir
Fischer said a lot of the important financial components were obviously in place when he arrived as is evidenced by the business longevity of the Sewell family and their impressive list of customers.
“We've been able to acquire new customers — some large ones — because of our size,” he said, pointing to Coca-Cola and its orders for orange juice bottles with handle ware.
“Then, we've been able to get with Talenti, which was bought by Unilever. That's the ice cream and the gelato in a plastic-type jar. We started off with them when they were small and we've been able to grow considerably with them.”
As involved family owners, the Sewell family has vast experience — 30-plus years each for John and his brothers Drew and Scott — and acumen to draw upon. Still, Fischer came along with much to offer in terms of reliable forecasting and “explaining key drivers and impact instead of just reporting numbers,” John Sewell said.
Fischer said as family owners, the Sewells “do a lot of things because they know in their gut it's right. As we're growing I try to explain what this decision or that decision drives for cash flow and income down the road. I help them understand those decisions more in dollar terms and give them options.”
Fischer's advice has been instrumental in everything from tracking resin and productivity to turning around under-performing plants to taking advantage of research and development credits to determining what businesses to acquire, according to John Sewell.