George Sickinger, left, is congratulated by NAPIM president Dave Frescoln after he received the Printing Ink Pioneer Award.
That, however, is how George Sickinger, then vice president and general manager of Borden Chemical’s Printing Ink Group, acquired his company from Borden Chemical in 1999. It took a lot of courage to make the acquisition, but the new company, Color Resolutions International, has flourished, moving into a state-of-the-art headquarters and new markets even while the ink industry suffers through an economic downturn andhigher raw materials costs.
These reasons led the National Association of Printing Ink Manufacturers (NAPIM) to presentMr. Sickinger, CRI’s chairman, president and CEO and a 44-year veteran of the ink industry, with its prestigious Printing Ink Pioneer Award at the 2007 NAPIM Convention.
Joining the Ink Industry
In 1964, Mr. Sickinger was majoring in chemistry at Northeastern University, and he was deciding whether he wanted to remain in chemistry. He recalled the choice came down to Interchemical’s ink laboratory or a bakery, and he chose ink.
“I was a chemistry major, but I wasn’t thrilled with it, and I was thinking of changing majors,” Mr. Sickinger said. “I had the choice of counting rolls at a bakery or working in an ink lab.”
Mr. Sickinger opted to become a lab technician at Interchemical, which later became Inmont. He found that the ink business was reminiscent of the bakery: “I found ink was more like cooking than chemistry,” he said.
Although Mr. Sickinger started in the lab, he quickly decided sales were more to his liking.
“It seemed like the guys having the most fun were the ones in suits, so I changed my major to finance,” he said. “I handled sales in Boston for a while, then moved to Rochester, NY to run a sub-branch.”
While at Interchemical, Mr. Sickinger gathered knowledge that would help him throughout his career.
“At Interchemical, they had a four-monthink chemistry course for new employees, followed by a marketing class,” he recalled. “I learned more about product knowledge, and I still have the books from those courses. That experience at Interchemical served me so well.”
Mr. Sickinger was not certain the ink industry was for him, and he tried his hand at other fields. “For a while I thought about getting out, and dabbled in real estate and weekly newspapers, but I kept rising up in the ink industry,” Mr. Sickinger said.“In 1973, I answered an ad in the New York Times for Sun Chemical. I was 29 at the time, and I was sent to Grand Prairie, TX to be branch manager.”
He would go on to become a district manager, and picked up plenty of sales experience. “At Sun Chemical, I learned a lot about sales,” Mr. Sickinger said. “They had a can-do spirit in the ’70s that had long left Interchemical.”
In 1980, Mr. Sickinger joined Borden Chemical, beginning as regional manager and rising to the position of vice president and general manager of Borden Chemical’s Printing Ink Group. There were plenty of challenges at Borden, as ink was not thought of as a core business and it had faced some rough years, but Mr. Sickinger had turned the division around, posting its highest profits at the time of its sale.
“At Borden, I learned how to turn around a losing operation,” Mr. Sickinger said. “We went though some tough years at Borden, and we even lost money some years, but we had turned it around by the time we
formed Color Resolutions.”
Forming Color Resolutions
By 1999, Borden Chemical had undergone a leadership change, and the company’s new leadership was looking to focus on its core businesses and divest its ink operations. Mr. Sickinger was asked to lead the effort to find a buyer, and when that stalled, he was given the opportunity to form a group to acquire the division himself.
“I had two letters of intent that fell through, and it was suggested that I take the business over,” he said.
Michelle and George Sickinger.
“It took 14 months to learn the ins and outs, and I worked with equity groups. I had all the sales contacts, and our customers gave me their vote of confidence,” he said.
“I was so blessed to have this happen,” Mr. Sickinger added. “My great joy was having the opportunity to buy Borden’s printing ink group. Success doesn’t happen without the right people, and I wanted these people with me. Our core management group is still in place, and they all have a piece of ownership.”
After the new company was formed and the acquisition was complete, Mr. Sickinger invited his six key managers to purchase shares in the company. The ownership of CRI today is divided among eight executives: Mr. Sickinger, CRI’s chairman, president and CEO; John Edelbrock, vice president of manufacturing; Joseph Schlinkert, technical director; Paul Fulton, vice president of technical services; Hixon Boyd, vice president, field operations, southern region; Dave Barker, vice president, field operations, northern region; Jim Distler, vice president, strategic accounts; and Rick Gray, vice president of finance and CFO.
Mr. Edelbrock has worked with Mr. Sickinger since 1985, and said he fits the true definition of a pioneer.
“George really exemplifies what a pioneer does,” Mr. Edelbrock said. “He is very people and customer focused. It was scary buying Color Resolutions, but he saved 110 jobs. He came to all of us and asked us to come with him, and we didn’t lose one employee.”
For the first two years, the new company was moving forward quickly, but the slowdown that hit the ink industry also struck CRI. Mr. Sickinger and his team acted on numerous fronts – building a highly-efficient, state-of-the-art manufacturing plantin 2004 and moving into more lucrative markets – that made a major difference for the company.
“Our first two years we were going gangbusters, but the ink industry changed,” Mr. Sickinger said. “We had to put stringent cost cutting measures in place, and that was a great test of our management team.”
The new plant went a long way toward improving efficiency and consistency. CRI incorporated Lean Manufacturing practices into the design, and tripled batch sizes to 24,000 pounds.
Expanding into new markets was a major decision that has paid off for CRI. At Borden, the ink division had become the second-largest printing ink supplier for the corrugated market, primarily supplying water-based and UV inks for containers, folding cartons, rigid plastic containers and other specialty applications.
Mr. Sickinger looked closely at the market and realized that times were changing, especially with manufacturing moving overseas. The company has successfully developed products for flexible packaging and label and narrow web, which have keyed its growth.
“We are making a real dent in new markets,” Mr. Sickinger said. “Recently, we listed our top 10 accounts from 2001 to now, and looking at our list now, there are five names we never heard of as of a few years ago. Along the way, we’ve had to walk away from some major accounts that were squeezing us hard, and we’ve more than made up for those sales losses.”
With CRI, Mr. Sickinger has also taken a larger role within the ink industry as well. He was elected to NAPIM’s Board of Directors in 2000, is a founding Board member ofRadTech International andhas served on the Board of the Flexographic Technical Foundation and the FTA Foundation. He has also been a speaker and chairman at numerous FTA sessions and author of many papers and articles on flexo printing.
Outside of the industry, Mr. Sickinger and his wife, Michelle, enjoy a wide variety of activities, most notably skiing.
“Skiing is my all-time favorite,” Mr. Sickinger said. “It’s a metaphor for life; you creatively traverse difficult terrain.I haven’t missed a season in 30 years. The best skiing is in the western U.S. - Vail, Aspen, Deer Park, and in Europe, such as Cortina, Italy. I also enjoy gourmet cooking, and am also really into health and fitness. My diet’s better than it has ever been, and am doing lots of exercising.”
Mr. Sickinger notes that he has no immediate plans to retire from CRI. “The industry served me well, and I feel I’m making a contribution,” Mr. Sickinger said. “Besides, I like our new logo on our building, and I don’t want to see that change.”