Industry Leader: Atlantic legend
CPIA Industry Leader: Georg NemeskeriThe business and technical acumen of industry innovator Georg Nemeskeri, president of GN Plastics, have long been recognized in Atlantic Canada. He received the CP...
CPIA Industry Leader: Georg Nemeskeri
The business and technical acumen of industry innovator Georg Nemeskeri, president of GN Plastics, have long been recognized in Atlantic Canada. He received the CPIA Atlantic Region’s industry leader award in November, 1997. Now the recognition has spread across the nation, as Georg has been chosen as the recipient of the plastics industry’s most prestigious award, CPIA’s Industry Leader of the Year.
The industry veteran started designing early thermoforming machinery precursors at age 16, at his father’s facility in Vienna. (He credits his father with the guidance, and the genes, that helped ensure robust growth of his East-Coast operation.) History seems set to repeat itself as well, with Georg’s son, Thomas, handling production in this family business that now employs 110, and turns on sales of some $19 million. Operations now span a worldwide array of clients — primarily large multinational plastics processing companies, but including many smaller entrepreneurial or family operations.
GN Plastics’ precursor, Chester Plastics, started as a small family business in the town of Chester, NS, about an hour’s drive from Halifax. Chester Plastics made thermoformed thin-wall food product packaging products (like the thin separators in chocolate boxes). That operation (recently acquired by Montreal-based Ivex, part of Alcoa) showed remarkable growth. Its success was even more noteworthy in that the fledgling production plant started with no production machinery!
Georg and a small cadre of machinery engineering technicians set up initial production on thermoforming machinery made of available parts — and subsequent refinements made the process so attractive that even competitors wanted to buy GN’s machines. (He explained how this potential conflict-of-interest problem caused GN Plastics to look outside Canada for its major markets. That, of course, catapulted the company into the hurly-burly of the international export universe — which Georg plans to continue exploring.) He attributes part of his success here to enthusiastic participation in international trade fairs, the most important of which he considers the ‘K’ fairs in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Far from adopting the posture of a small-town-Canadian shrinking violet, he reports that, last October, he set up a trio of thermoforming machines right next to the booth of his German arch-competitor. He takes visible pride in outgunning that firm’s sales and marketing forces in high-level competitions around the world. “We design, build and export pressure-forming machines, distinguished from all others by the consistency of the form and cut-in-place operation and the compact tooling associated with it,” Georg explains.
Those who know Georg say it is mixture of qualities that account for his success. CPIA’s Atlantic Region head, Duncan Cross characterizes Georg as “energetic … a very nice guy, a bit shy sometimes, but with a good sense of humor and a lot of joie de vivre.” CPIA (national) CEO Pierre Dubois calls him “a man with a great amount of stamina.”
Georg emphasizes that his management skills in sales and marketing and administration have been acquired over the many years in the business. Now, at the age of 59, nothing is further from his mind than retirement, and he tells us his father, now well into his 80s, similarly has a regular presence in his overseas offices. While Georg makes sure his senior staff are impeccably trained and capable of handling operations with little supervision, he continues his hands-on mode, particularly in areas like expanding product lines and markets.
Realizing competitors might cry ‘foul’ if there appeared too close a connection between Chester Plastics and GN Plastics-sourced machinery, early on GN focused on the handy US market (which tended to come to him anyway, recognizing the design excellence of GN’s machines — which occupied about a third of the space of machinery with similar capacities.) “Our first two machines were sold to thermoforming companies in the US,” Georg reports. “We provided a superior quality machine which gave them higher output with less scrap.”
GN Plastics’ main customer base evolved to span the globe; however, in North America, it seems centered on larger corporations in the US (mostly in manufacturing food packaging). “But,” says Georg, “we also have many small entrepreneurial companies who find the cost of our machines very attractive to supply packaging to the local markets.”
Dubois corroborates this design excellence, recognizing that GN Plastics exports some three-quarters (or more) of its machinery by delivering high-quality equipment. “GN Plastics put Canadian plastic thermoforming equipment on the map,” he says. “The company has a strong presence in Europe, South America and Asia. Perhaps the most sincere form of compliment is copying someone’s design — which is what the Chinese have done.”
While Georg modestly attributes some of his success to the discovery of “a vacuum” in the plastic packaging niche, he also discovered new and better ways to design, run and market his products. Some tradition-bound competitors, particularly European ones, don’t display his sensitivity to customer wishes. By contrast, he explains, at GN Plastics, an important aspect is regular customer contact, while bringing in users’ ‘wish lists’ when changes are contemplated. His company emphasizes “regular scheduled visits to customers by highly trained, experienced technicians … and the customer is always consulted when designing new auxiliary equipment.”
The GN Plastics boss has an amusing anecdote about how his firm’s machinery evolves with input from customers. For years, the firm found itself too busy producing just the basic machinery. Keeping up with demand was a challenge, and development of new designs took second place. At a Chicago meeting, Georg was cornered by a persistent client who urged the GN head to figure out what a larger machine would cost — right then and there. Design parameters were sketched out on the spot, and, using a scale-up formula (based on existing vs. projected square inches) he came up with a ball-park price. Shortly thereafter, GN Plastics received an order from the customer, including the dimensions and price sketched out so informally. “We had to make it then,” Georg concluded.
Such unquestioning commitment to GN’s brand image is based on a rare combination of technical performance, design efficiency and total devotion to customers. Georg Nemeskeri spells it out as a motto — perhaps more of a corporate mantra: “Once you buy a GN machine you become a member of the GN family; it does not matter where you are.” To some that may sound trite in a world overrun by hype and bombast, but talking with CPIA’s chosen Industry Leader, it is clearly not hype; it is a foundation element of the company’s culture.
The GN Plastics founder now basks in the glow of worldwide success and recognition, musing, “I never dreamed we’d be competition to the biggest packaging machinery companies in the world. We have become a force our competition has to reckon with.”