The printing ink industry is clearly changing, and it is interesting to hear the perspective of people who have long been involved in the field. From time to time, Ink World will interview some of the leaders in the field, and present their viewpoints.
This week, we spoke with George Sickinger, chairman, president and CEO of Color Resolutions International (CRI), as well as the president of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM).
Mr. Sickinger has spent his entire career in the printing ink industry. He founded CRI in 2000 through a leveraged buyout of Borden Chemical’s Printing Ink Division; he was vice president and general manager of that division. He spent 20 years with Borden in various management positions, and played a major role in repositioning Borden as a supplier of specialty inks and coatings to the packaging industry. Mr. Sickinger began his career as a laboratory technician and held management positions at Sun Chemical for nine years.
He is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in finance, and earned the equivalent of an MBA degree at Babson College, Rochester Institute of Technology and Texas Christian University. In addition to serving as NAPIM president, Mr. Sickinger is chairman of the Board of Directors of the ICPF. He also is a member of, or has held positions of leadership, in the AICC, FTA, TAPPI, FPA, TLMI and EMA, is a regular contributor to industry publications and is recognized as a thought-leader. Mr. Sickinger was awarded the 2007 Printing Ink Pioneer Award by NAPIM for his service and contributions to the industry.
Ink World: What is your background in the ink industry?
George Sickinger: I was a chemistry major in New Jersey and was looking for work to help pay for my schooling when I learned that a lab tech position was open at Inmont. I took the job and found that I liked it. I found it interesting to be matching colors for name brand products and to see how packaging was produced. After a hiatus to serve out my military obligation, I returned to Inmont while finishing college. Soon after, I was offered a sales position in the Boston area. Some years later, I joined Sun Chemical as branch manager in Texas and later Atlanta, before being recruited by Borden Chemical as a regional manager, and later general manager of their ink division until I was given the opportunity to buy the ink division in 2000. I think I could say that I have done most of the jobs available in the industry.
Ink World: How has the ink industry changed in recent years?
George Sickinger: The industry has changed a great deal over the years, but in many ways, certain things have remained the same. The biggest change has been the consolidation that has taken place among customers, ink companies and suppliers. Industry profit margins aren’t what they used to be. Industry growth has been waning and ink companies can’t count on bumps in sales from industry growth, so the competitive environment is harsher. However, customers still require, and sometimes openly appreciate, well-performing formulations tailored to their process and high quality technical service.
Ink World: What are the biggest challenges facing the ink industry?
George Sickinger: The economic and attending competitive environment has made both sales and margin improvement very challenging. Customers want more service, often at lower prices. The ubiquitous RFPs are causing us to take a hard look at the way we do business. Even though I am not fond of the RFP process, I must admit that it has caused us to strip some cost out of our process without compromising quality or service. As the economy improves and housing rebounds, I expect the cost and availability of raw materials to be a serious issue.
Ink World: How can ink manufacturers best help their customers, whether it is developing new technologies or providing excellent value?
George Sickinger: I think you really need to get inside your customer’s head to completely understand their issues and challenges so you can find a way to be a part of their success moving forward. Ink companies should be considered a partner when a customer is considering a capital expenditure for new printing equipment. Ink people are in a unique position to keep customers from making serious mistakes that often become our problem down the road.
Ink World: What is your outlook for the ink industry in the coming years?
George Sickinger: Despite the challenges, I feel very optimistic about the future. We have built a great team of people in our company that provide real value. I believe the market will reward good value with sales growth.