During his 39 years at Sun Chemical, Mr. Collins held a wide variety of leadership positions, but it was his role as the leader of the company’s purchasing department that earned him the most notice. Since 1989, Mr. Collins had been primarily responsible for the company’s purchasing, taking on supply chain responsibilities in 1999.
He was responsible for all aspects of global purchasing, including raw materials, freight management, corporate fleet administration, corporate travel activity and purchasing of business printing.
Mr. Collins was also an active member of the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM), serving as a featured speaker as well as the chairman of NAPIM’s Raw Material Committee in 1990. He earned NAPIM’s prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award in 1996. In addition, Mr. Collins was recently named Man of the Year by the Metro New York Printing Ink Association (MNYPIA) at a dinner in April.
Sun Chemical’s leaders say that they will miss the leadership Mr. Collins provided.
“During our association over the years, Ken has shown himself to be very resourceful and knowledgeable about both our industry and dynamics of our suppliers,” said Henri Dyner, Sun Chemical’s former president and CEO. “He has been tough but fair. These are the elements that have allowed him to be effective. He has developed lasting partnerships with many of our suppliers and made a major contribution to Sun Chemical over his career.”
“Ken has taken on many challenges at Sun Chemical and delivered on every undertaking,” said Michael Murphy, senor vice president, North America for Sun Chemical. “Be it plant management, general management or purchasing, Ken has been a leader and a professional in every sense. His contributions to the industry in leading the NAPIM Purchasing Committee and sharing his world-class understanding of the events which affect raw material pricing will be missed.”
“Ken has been a key leader for many years within Sun Chemical and the industry, and has been the driving force behind Sun’s successful purchasing capability,” said Wes Lucas, Sun Chemical's chairman, president and CEO. “Ken is highly respected in the industry and has played a significant role in many industry-wide groups.”
“Ken is very knowledgeable and well-respected,” said Greg Nelson, Sun Chemical’s vice president and chief procurement officer, who is taking on Mr. Collins’ responsibilities.
Early Career at Sun Chemical
Mr. Collins joined Sun Chemical in 1964. After graduating from Lincoln University with a degree in chemistry, Mr. Collins attended graduate school at Howard University prior to entering the job market. He quickly found what he was looking for at Sun Chemical’s Electro Tech division, and quickly moved up in the company.
“I worked as an coatings chemist for Dr. Katz at Electro Tech, Sun’s coatings company,” Mr. Collins said. “We coated pure silica glass for nose cones of the Minuteman missiles for guidance. In 1966, I transferred to our Facile Division, which was our laminating company. I started up our QLL laboratory and then went into manufacturing.”
In 1973, Mr. Collins’ background in chemistry and manufacturing led to his first stint in purchasing, and his first collaboration with Dick France, Sun Chemical’s corporate vice president of purchasing.
“During the oil embargo, raw materials were in short supply, and my having a background in chemistry was helpful in finding alternatives,” Mr. Collins said. “In 1974, Sun asked me to go to GPI Chicago in purchasing. My knowledge of chemistry put me in a better position to talk about costs and to be prepared to talk about supply and price.”
After four years at GPI, Mr. Collins was promoted to group manufacturing manager for Sun Chemical’s four ink plants in the Midwest, where he spent three years before deciding he wanted to gain some sales experience.
“In 1981, I became the general manager of our corrugated business,” Mr. Collins said. “I started the division, and we bought Indianapolis Ink and Chemicals from Inland, which brought our sales up to $15 million. We then bought Printing Products from Owens Illinois, which brought sales up another $15 million. By 1987, we built it up to approximately $45 million.
“At that point, Mr. France wanted to retire, and I was asked if I was interested in heading up corporate purchasing for the graphic arts group. After 18 months at GPI and another 18 months working directly with Mr. France, I was named corporate vice president of purchasing in 1990.”
Mr. Collins credits Mr. France with providing a strong foundation for the company’s purchasing operations.
“Dick is a very good person,” Mr. Collins said. “He had held the job for 22 years, and he passed along a lot of professional experience. He established the credibility of Sun’s purchasing department. He put in a lot of professional touches we still use today. He was a good mentor for the importance of value and use of raw materials. He was a firm believer in the importance of visiting your supplier’s facilities to see their logistics and their problems. We wanted our people to know what they were buying as well as the sales person did who called on them.”
Mr. Collins said that he was able to build upon Mr. France’s foundation while expanding the company’s operations worldwide.
“We put purchasing in a much more controlled approach,” he said. “I would say that I developed global agreements for Sun and consolidated our European operations. We’re in a global market now, competing for materials globally.”
Mr. Collins said he also had a great deal of help from Sun Chemical’s leadership. “At work, I was fortunate to work with Ed Barr, and Gordon MacQuaker and Massie Odiotti taught me the ropes. Henri Dyner was very helpful, especially as we incorporated our European purchasing, and Ursula Stevens provided much assistance to purchasing in Latin America.”
Of all the influences in Mr. Collins’ life, though, his mother, Carrie Collins, and his wife, Emma, were first.
“My biggest influence was my mother,” he said. “I was the last of 13 children, three brothers and nine sisters, and my dad passed away when I was 11. My mother made sure I had a good education, and my wife, Emma, always worked with me and raised our family.”
A Changing Industry
Mr. Collins has seen a lot of changes at Sun Chemical and in the ink industry during the past 39 years.
“I started with Sun when it was quite small, and we’re going through changes just like any other major corporation,” Mr. Collins said. “I agree with Wes Lucas when he says that Sun Chemical is a very good company, but good isn’t good enough today. You have to be a great company, whether it’s in terms of safety, people development, providing value to our customers or improving our processes through Six Sigma. Our mantra is together going from good to great. Six Sigma is taking hold at Sun Chemical, and it’s going to be a part of Sun Chemical going forward.”
The world of purchasing has also changed over time.
“In the past, we built a foundation on knowing suppliers and building relationships,” Mr. Collins said. “Dick France started that and we have continued it. Now we see reverse auctions, and you lose relationships. You sign on with a company, set up a starting price and watch companies underbid each other. I’m not in favor of that approach. Crude oil and natural gas are going through the roof, and it’s like buying gas at the pump. If you don’t want to pay the price for it, you don’t get gas.”
Relationships remain the most certain way to succeed in business.
“Without relationships your company won’t be the one who’ll get serviced,” Mr. Collins said. “ If you work very closely and develop a trust, you should be able to receive the best logistics and service. If, for example, a resin company comes up with a revolutionary product, they are more likely to bring it to a company they have a good relationship with.”
Mr. Collins said that his years in sales convinced him that sales and purchasing are similar in nature.
“I look at purchasing as no different than sales,” he said. “We’re just on opposite sides of the desk. The only difference is that salesmen have to close the deal. In the end, both have to satisfy their respective customers.”
Mr. Collins said that while purchasing has had the advantage of being in a buyers’ market during the past few years, it isn’t necessarily good for the industry as a whole.
“Purchasing has had the run of the business for at least six years, which is unusual,” Mr. Collins said. “The pendulum will swing the other way due to the world situation today and energy costs. One of my concerns is that it sometimes seems that we are losing suppliers frequently, which isn’t good because there will be fewer alternatives. Suppliers and buyers should work together to get a fair return for their products.”
Since 1964, Mr. Collins has been involved in practically all facets of Sun Chemical’s operations, and he said he has enjoyed all that he has accomplished.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have had such a varied work experience at Sun Chemical,” Mr. Collins said. “I’ve really had few ups and downs. It’s been mostly good for me. The Pioneer Award was a great experience and one of the highlights for me, to be honored by my peers in the industry I work with. It has been a real experience to travel the world and learn other cultures.”
For now, Mr. Collins is content to take it easy with his family after his nearly four decades in the ink industry. However, Mr. Collins has always been an active person, and there is always the possibility that he may wish to return to the world of business, which he knows so well.
“Emma and I have two children, Marlyn and Kenneth, and four grandchildren, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them,” he said. “I’m going to do nothing for awhile, maybe play some golf, do some community service and some leisure traveling. I may even buy another boat. Maybe afterward I'll do some projects for companies I’ve been associated with over the years.”