The new leader at D&W Fine Pack LLC does not mince words. The company, he says, has some work to do.
With the appointment of Gary Rehwinkel as the new CEO of the Wood Dale, Ill.-based maker of plastic products such as containers, plates, trays, bowls, cutlery and straws, the company is in for some change.
Rehwinkel, who most recently worked for Coveris in films, labels and board in Europe, has more than 30 years of business experience, with the vast majority of his time in plastic packaging.
And D&W Fine Pack represents his return to the rigids side of the plastics business.
Rehwinkel puts the challenge this way: "There's a lot of rocks we need to push as a team, not three big boulders. The key for me is to help sort out the pile of rocks we need to move," he said in an interview June 25, the day he was announced as CEO. "Our short-term goal would be back to focusing on the customer and their experiences."
D&W, like other companies, has been good at focusing on manufacturing efficiency and operations and letting that drive the firm's approach toward the market, Rehwinkel said.
Adopting a more customer-centric view will allow D&W to develop a future with them.
"Right now, our focus is on today and getting that right with them. We need to focus on tomorrow with them once they are comfortable with that we've got today fixed," he said.
D&W, based in suburban Chicago near O'Hare airport, needs to be more aware of customer circumstances, which will allow its employees to discuss a customer's entire portfolio as well as any issues they might be having.
"We have a very capable development team here that quite frankly needs to be more sensitive to our customers and utilized by them," he said.
D&W was ranked as the third-largest thermoformer in North America in the most recent Plastics News ranking, with an estimated $545 million in sales in 2017. It ranked at No. 100 for PN's 2018 list of injection molders with $70 million in sales in the region. It has annual corporate sales of about $615 million.
Part of that approach is looking at market conditions that are influencing the kind of single-use plastics that D&W makes.
Those plastics are under the microscope of consumer awareness like never before, with governments, environmental groups and many people seeking change in their use. Bans on items such as bags and straws and certain types of containers are becoming commonplace around the country and around the world.
This has helped lead Rehwinkel to conclude his company's future will include an emphasis on PET and recycled PET because of higher recycling rates. D&W still will provide polystyrene products to customers, but the new CEO believes there is a stronger future for PET products due to PS's lower recycling rate.
D&W also has developed a polylactic acid straw in response to growing consumer awareness. PLA is a bioplastic that will degrade in a matter of months under the right conditions.
"We need to do more of that. Also be in the right materials. I'm a big believer in rigid and PET. More of our products will be in PET and rPET, but also talking to customers about what they need. What are they seeing is the trend out there?" the new CEO said.
Rehwinkel leans on his past experiences to help guide him into the future.
As both a college football center at Louisiana Tech University and a former oilman, he's knows both the importance of teamwork and of taking risks.
His approach toward business, he said, is more driven by his experiences as a teammate than anything else.
And with changes in leadership at D&W during the past several months, he said he is comfortable the team the company now has in place can succeed.
But, he added, that's not enough for the company with eight manufacturing locations in the United States.
"From the production floor on up, everybody needs to focus on what are they doing every day and are they getting better every day as part of the process. ... You don't need all stars to have a winning team. You can't win with all quarterbacks and wide receivers. You need to have linemen, of course, as I'm one," Rehwinkel said.
"It's about putting the pieces together and not being focused on just the few," he said. "My management style will tend to look at it as a team and how do we put the pieces together to have the best team to win. And we will focus on winning every day, every week," he said.
Rehwinkel takes over from Keith Maib, who served as interim CEO for the past year as the company looked for a permanent leader.
Maib helped recruit Rehwinkel and has been transitioning duties to the new CEO, said Wayne Kocourek, chairman of both D&W and Mid Oaks Investments, majority shareholder of the company.
Maib came to D&W as senior managing director at Mackinac Partners, a turnaround, restructuring and advisory firm.