Since becoming president of IEF in September of 2018, Bob Stein has taken on the task of continuing the diligent work of his predecessor, Dave Clarke: growth, sustainability and world-class customer service.
This month, we sat down with Stein to learn more about him, his experience in the industry and what he is bringing to IEF for the rest of 2019 and beyond.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your work experience and your history in the engineered films industry?
A: I had been specific to the engineered films industry since 2009 when I was asked to run what is now known as IEF Dalton in Dalton, GA. That facility was subsequently bought by IPG and is now one of IEF’s more significant plants.
Outside of IEF, I have a pretty extensive background in engineering materials in a number of different capacities relating to specialty fibers that supplied product to a lot of the same markets we’re serving in engineered films. Additionally, I’ve worked many years with manufacturing-heavy companies like GE, in the automotive industry where there is a consistent demand for high quality, high technical content, innovation, cost focus, and engineered solutions as well as food businesses that require the rigors of the Safe Quality Food (SQF) program.
Q: How do you think your background and previous experience is going to help you in your role as president of IEF?
A: There are an awful lot of similarities when you really look at it in terms of what’s needed to meet customer needs, the technical demands, achieving quality standards, driving product development activity, and leveraging the cost drivers especially in regards to engineered products. We are focused on truly differentiating ourselves by actively listening to our customers’ needs and committing the assets and human resources necessary to help them be successful.
At a higher level, my experience in larger companies means I’m going to be able to see and understand where IEF’s potential is and where we can go, while making sure we have the necessary infrastructure and systems in place to support healthy growth.
Q: What are some of the changes you’ve overseen at IEF since becoming president?
A: Currently, we’re in the process of ensuring we stay on track to complete some of our major projects, including starting up a new line, adding capacity for some of our specialty segments, and moving forward with some exciting developments in barrier films and films that we classify in the green category. We’re organizing our team to accelerate our understanding in our chosen markets that include, but are not limited to, food packaging, building products and industrial films.
We are always looking at the most current technology and are evaluating our next investments. We know that our people are our greatest asset and ultimately make the difference between winning and losing. In that light, it’s important that we invest in the tools and human factors that help employees be more effective, feel rewarded and have fun in the process. Nothing exemplifies the spirit of IEF like a recent story I heard from one of our customers. This particular customer called one of our facilities on a national holiday with an urgent matter but was still able to reach someone even though the facility was closed. The best part about this story? The customer was able to get the information they needed from someone in our accounting department. That’s a perfect example of our commitment and one that shows when it comes to taking care of our customers, we are all a part of the customer service team.
Q: What are some of IEF’s upcoming initiatives that have you excited about the rest of 2019 and beyond?
A: Our drive is to leverage our experience while following the Inteplast Group philosophy of “think green.” To that, we have several exciting initiatives targeting this very important cause including our use of PCR plastic, post-industrial resin (PIR), finding more applications for our already commercially available compostable film, and our development of products using bioresins in the markets in which we serve. We know it’s not enough just to develop these products. We need to develop products that truly add value for our customers. With customers in many vertical markets – food packaging, fresh, frozen packaging, barrier films, industrial films, retail packaging, building products — there is no single “green” bullet. We love working with our customers to jointly develop solutions in the green space and it’s something we look forward to.
Q: Looking at the industry as a whole, are there any sticking points right now that are something you will be focusing on? How do you and IEF plan on addressing them?
A: To build on your previous question, the first thing that comes to mind is sustainability and the green movement. It’s not something we can avoid nor should we shy away from. As I mentioned, The Inteplast Group’s overall corporate mission and philosophy is very much in line with this focus on sustainability and being responsible when it comes to manufacturing engineered films and this sense of responsibility is something we actively try and make tangible for our customers.
The challenge becomes defining what will truly gain traction. We have regular conversations with our customers about this need to develop a greener, more environmentally-friendly product. With that said, there are as many answers or potential answers to this as there are people who ask.
Presently, there are some compromises that need to be made in many of the technologies for this type of product, whether it be physical properties, costs or aesthetics. We want to work closely with our customers, especially those that have a genuine mission to “go green.” It may not be an easy solution to develop, manufacture, market and sell in the somewhat extended value chains we participate in —especially when it comes to meeting the acceptable standards set by decision makers — but it’s a challenge we embrace. Often these solutions are just out of our immediate reach but are achievable over time. The best part is this kind of process is easy to launch because our group president, Dr. John Young, has a sincere belief in sustainability and we get the support we need to make investments in resources and technology that will allow us to support our customers during and well after this push for sustainability from those outside the industry.
Q: Focusing on sustainability, how do you see the industry tackling the call for more environmentally friendly engineered plastic films?
A: When looking at it from a film engineering perspective, there’s always formulating films that use less raw material without compromising the physical capabilities of the film. Using fewer resources – whether it be the energy to make it or the materials that go into it – is always a focus.
As I mentioned, from our position in the supply chain, and this is my opinion, everyone along the supply chain is going to have to work together to really meet this challenge head-on, and that starts with working with the customer. Whether they are looking for a biodegradable film or a PCR product, it’s going to be about helping them realize their competitive advantage.
It would be a bit naïve to think there is one monolithic answer. With all the applications and different properties engineered films can take, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because every application is different. We just need to really understand our customers’ needs and give them what they are actually looking for.
Q: Finally, what is going to separate IEF from its competitors in 2019 and what can your current and future customers expect from IEF for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
A: Ultimately, I see it as us being able to meet and exceed what our customers want and expect from us. It’s about improving their “cost.” I define cost in a broader manner than just the unit selling price. We have to help our customers improve yields, help them produce their products faster, help them provide a better solution for their customer, help them lower their working capital needs, and help them get to market faster with new products. We know that we are not always perfect. But, I expect our team to be transparent and timely with our information and who we pass it on to. Our customers have choices so we need to earn their business and trust every day.
To learn more about IEF’s capabilities or to speak with our experts to learn how we can help you achieve your targets for 2019, click here.