Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — Most successful businesses don't reach their full potential without successful leadership.
While industry groups and conferences demonstrate the cooperative nature of the collective, rarer is the individual who pushes for the kind of change that benefits the many.
Such is the tack for Ken Baker, CEO of Southampton, Pa.-based NewAge Industries Inc., who asked an audience of 200 at the Sheraton Suites in Cuyahoga Falls to embrace change during his May 12 talk, "The Challenges and Opportunities of Growth and Change."
Baker spoke as part of the May 11-12 International Silicone Conference, organized by Rubber News.
"I am here to pull back the curtain on the pandemic just a bit," Baker said, adding that he would be challenging his peers across a range of issues — from the consideration of an employee stock ownership program as a business structure to the risks of U.S. dependence on China for silicon metal refinement.
When the pandemic arrived in 2020, the change that it forced in the industry immediately became evident, Baker said.
Businesses deemed essential — like NewAge, a rubber and plastics hose and fittings manufacturer of silicone rubber hoses and vaccine delivery systems — rose to the occasion, while others were afflicted with high demand, low supply and allocations, issues that still face the industry today.
But as the pandemic provided pressure to change, it forced changes for Baker and NewAge, a 300-employee, $200 million organization that recently built an additional $2 million clean room in Southampton, with plans to open another facility this year in Warrington, Pa.
"When Operation Warp Speed was instituted by the Trump administration, everything went to COVID products," Baker said. "What about customers who manufacture cancer medications, flu vaccines, insulin or yellow fever vaccines ... what about our supply for them?
"They didn't care — COVID came first. Look at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ... they are used to building bridges, and they were building clean rooms."
Ultimately Moderna selected NewAge as its supplier of silicone tubing for its COVID vaccine, with NewAge providing the tubing to withstand the low temperatures required to transport the vaccines, typically on dry ice.
"Then the supply chain issues in the industry came in," Baker said. "Filters, tubing clamps, drug delivery systems ... everything was affected. Then you throw all this COVID volume on top of it ... and single-use systems already had long lead times. We did not have enough extruders at NewAge to put it all out."