Top Companies Report

2. Flint Group


North American Administrative Offices
14909 North Beck Road
Plymouth, MI 48170-7194
Phone: (734) 781-4600
Fax: (734) 781-4699 
Sales: €2.4B ($3.5B) worldwide. North American Sales: $1 billion (Ink World estimate). 

Major Products: Coldset and heatset web offset, sheetfed offset, flexographic, gravure and UV/EB inks; coatings for publication, packaging and commercial applications. A wide range of inks and coatings for narrow web tag and label applications. Photopolymer plates and sleeve systems for flexographic applications; highly engineered printing blankets and sleeves for offset applications, pressroom chemicals and supplies. Dry, flushed and press cake pigments, chips and resins for ink and other applications, aqueous dispersions, hyperdispersants and additives for the colorant market.

Key Personnel: Charles Knott, chairman and CEO; Michael J. Bissell, executive VP and CFO; Dr. Dirk Aulbert, president, Packaging and Narrow Web; Dermot Healy, president, Print Media Europe; William B. Miller, president, Print Media Americas; Brent Stephen, president, Asia Pacific; Dr. Thomas Telser, president, Flint Group Flexographic Products; Craig Foster, president, Flint Group Pigments; Jan Paul van der Velde, senior VP, procurement; Russell Taylor, senior VP global HR & communications.

Number of Employees: Approximately 7,300 worldwide.

Comments: Without a doubt, 2009 was a difficult year for the printing industry, and the ink industry felt the impact as well. All things considered, William B. Miller, president, Print Media Americas for Flint Group, said his company did fairly well.

“2009 was a challenging year for the ink industry as a whole, and Flint Group was not immune to that,” Mr. Miller said. “Still, Flint Group did very well under the circumstances by focusing on our customers, controllable costs and innovation.”

On the sales side, the company focused on their unique product portfolio. 

“The benefits from last year’s reorganization really picked up steam,” noted Mike Neroni, vice president of sales for the Print Media North America business unit. “Our cross-training and cross-product-line efforts mean every sales person is able to sell every product, which gives us a very unique position in the market.”

Susan Kuchta, vice president of the North American packaging group, said, “2009 was a difficult year for the packaging industry, so it stands to reason that the ink industry had similar challenges. The recession produced definite winners and losers, though a notable portion of well-diversified packaging printers and suppliers managed to maintain stable business conditions.”

Ms. Kuchta added that several years ago, Flint Group restructured its operations and commercial organization to better serve its core markets and capitalize on growth opportunities. 

“Therefore, we were in a great position in a difficult economy,” Ms. Kuchta said. “Success in 2009 has been a matter of continuing to implement our strategy, which is to focus on our customers and market needs rather than on internal activities.”

Frank Mastria, vice president operations, Print Media North America, said that on the cost side, “Our team did a great job at managing working capital. Like most companies, we tightened our belts to keep day-to-day expenses down, but the greatest impact came from our ongoing strategy of continuous improvement. When you pair continuous improvement and working capital efforts, you can keep costs down without sacrificing product quality or service to customers.” 

Flint Group kept innovation front-and-center during the past year. 

“Even while the economy was hurting, our R&D teams kept focusing on enhancing existing products and bringing new ones to market,” said Don Rose, vice president of technology. “We know that customers rely on us for innovations to help them weather the tough economic climate and meet demanding customer expectations. We stayed committed to addressing our customers’ needs.” 

The printing industry has clearly been greatly impacted by the recession, and Flint Group’s customers were no exception. 

“Like most industries, the strong will survive and prosper, but many of our customers are struggling,” Mr. Miller said. “Some didn’t make it and all are hoping the worst is behind us. I believe that recovery will be slow, taking much longer than in past economic downturns, and some segments will not fully recover. This will facilitate further industry consolidation.” 

Mike Impastato, vice president strategic marketing of the North American packaging and narrow web group, describes the impact of 2009. 

“We have seen the entire gamut of impact to our customers,” Mr. Impastato said. “In early 2009, nearly everyone’s business was down significantly, which was expected after the way 2008 finished. Still, it is interesting to see that by later in 2009, some printers regained all their lost volume and sold out their equipment.In general, 2009 turned out better than most people expected.”

For Flint Group, the most notable event was the company’s global reorganization announced in March 2009. Two key elements of those changes were the formation of “Print Media” units in Europe and North America and a global packaging and narrow web business unit.

Charles Knott
“Our business units can now offer the full range of products and services demanded by the Print Media market comprising coldset inks, newspaper flexo inks, heatset inks, publication gravure inks, sheetfed inks as well as press room chemicals, printing blankets and sleeves for all offset printing processes,” Charles Knott, chairman and CEO, said at the time of the reorganization. 

“Our breadth of products and cross-product-line efforts help customers optimize production, minimize waste and increase efficiencies,” Mr. Knott adds now. “In a word, Flint Group’s Print Media units help customers reduce their total cost of printing, which is essential in today’s competitive and challenging print sector.”

Ms. Kuchta remembers 2009 as the year Flint Group took its packaging business global. 

“Early in 2009, Flint Group combined our regional packaging businesses and the global narrow web business into one global operating group,” Ms. Kuchta said. “Ink is typically sold on a regional or local basis and is always serviced locally, but the unmistakable trend in the packaging industry is globalization. We made this change for several reasons. First, we want to make sure we leverage our global capabilities for the benefit of our local customers. In the global structure, our local sales and technical forces have direct contact with a worldwide web of expertise and technology. And secondly, as a global business we can better align with packaging printers who have global operations and want a supplier partner who can support them globally.”

Raw material costs remain a major concern. Jan Paul van der Velde, senior vice president, procurement, describes the state of raw material suppliers in 2009. “Falling demand last year meant raw material suppliers were unable to pass through many of the price increases they suffered,” Mr. van der Velde said. “Some suppliers left the graphic arts market or closed entirely. This limited capacity. Surviving suppliers are keeping raw material inventory low and are poised to increase prices significantly at the first hint of increased demand.

“While this is certainly a concern, Flint Group is in a good position,” Mr. van der Velde added. “Like all graphic arts companies, we are affected by strong market forces; however our global purchasing strength positions us well to leverage our relationships with reliable suppliers. This helps to mitigate the impact of supply and costs related to the raw materials we use in our products. Even during the most difficult times, we have weathered the storm.”

Diane Parisi, vice president, procurement, notes that the printing industry has learned more about the role petroleum plays in printing ink manufacturing costs. 

“Even when crude prices aren’t through the roof,” Ms. Parisi explained, “ink manufacturers can experience price increases for oil-based raw materials. Why? Because many of the raw materials used in printing consumables pass through multiple refining steps. Each step adds to the cost of those materials.”

“In packaging, our first priority is assuredness of supply,” Ms. Kuchta said. “Raw material plant closures and supplier exits can create short supply of unique and critical raw materials. The ink company’s ability to manage or command supply continuity is critical to success. Our strategic sourcing strategy has allowed us to be successful in this area.”

Flint Group has high expectations for 2010 and beyond. 

“We expect packaging to have a good year in 2010,” Mr. Impastato said. “We expect the packaging industry to complete its recovery in 2010 and regain its historical growth rates. The difficulties of the recession were a good – but difficult – lesson for everyone. I believe our customers will be cautious about growing their overhead and will continue to run lean and be very cost-conscious. They will be looking for value and lowest total cost of ownership. Since this has been a focus of Flint Group, it will put us in a very good position.”

Flint Group’s Print Media team is looking forward to a stronger 2010. Doug Labertew, vice president, product management and strategy, Print Media North America, explained, “Our strategies are driving innovations that will add considerable value to our business in 2010. We are well aware of the ongoing challenges posed by the economy, electronic media and other market elements, but we’re prepared. We are confident that we can continue to help our customers remain competitive.”

“There are opportunities in each sector,” noted Mr. Miller. “For example, in the news industry, UV news inks are taking on a larger role. Ecologically friendly inks are gaining momentum in almost all markets, especially sheetfed. Energy curable inks are still a key strength for us. We’ve found success in focusing on the growth areas within each market segment. Diversity and quality will continue to be our drivers.” 

“I expect Flint Group will fare well in 2010,” concluded Mr. Miller. “We will have new offerings for customers, providing value to printers while expanding our business across all product lines. It’s going to be an exciting year.”