Karl or Groucho?
Traditionally, FINAT always invites two or more keynote speakers from outside the industry. This year the slots were filled by Erkut Uludag, a senior management consultant with Roland Berger Strategy Group, and Michael Braungart of the Hamburg based Environmental Protection Agency. Uludag sketched the outlines of the Turkish packaging and label industry, and warned potential investors and vendors about the laws and local customs which foreign businessmen need to understand. Bureaucracy in Turkey is more labyrinthine than in France, he reckoned (amazing), and business transactions can never be hurried.
If Uludag was coherent but uncharismatic, Braungart was the opposite. His discussion of "ecologism" was punctuated with highly entertaining examples drawn from neckties, diapers, sex and elevators. He undoubtedly believes in a revolutionary approach to the environment but at times his Marxism seemed closer to Groucho than to Karl.
Health check-up for the European label industry
Every year at the annual FINAT congress, delegates wait to hear the "official" FINAT statistics on the growth rates of Europe's pressure sensitive label sector. The figures are amalgamated from the sales of the eight biggest European laminate manufacturers, and as such are a relatively reliable indicator.
This year as FINAT General Manager Jules Lejeune rose to give his report, delegates were expecting the worst, and they were not disappointed. Total PS label sales in Europe in 2008 fell by just 3 percent compared with 2007, but there was a much steeper decline in the fourth quarter. All grades of laminate suffered, and paper rolls (around 75 percent of the total) were particularly hard hit. First quarter 2009 figures just in showed falls for nearly all regions of Europe (see table above).
FINAT also carries out a quarterly "index of business confidence" by polling its members to gauge their optimism (+) or pessimism (-) regarding the future months. At the end of December 2008 this index hit a record-breaking -100 percent.
As the stunned delegates were recovering from this onslaught, they were hit by the normally cheerful Corey Reardon, CEO of research agency AWA. Over the years, label sector growth has diverged from GDP by two percentage points, Reardon said. Up until 2007 it had been 2 percent above GDP, but now, well… you've guessed it. At least people are still eating, drinking and getting sick, said Reardon, ending on a (relatively) cheerful note, so food, beverage and pharmaceutical label sales are slowing down the retreat from prosperity.
Despite the succession of woeful tidings, over the past year membership of FINAT has increased substantially, from 462 in January 2007 to 591 today. Retiring FINAT president Jan-Frederik Vink pointed to the many new initiatives of FINAT, from its professional training programs through its interactive website to its label printer forums, to push home the message that even in a recession converters and suppliers are getting value for money from their membership. Vink most appropriately illustrated his presentation of what he called "FINAT – the essential European umbrella organization" with pictures of ships plowing through stormy seas. It would be mean-spirited to point out that in a storm umbrellas are of little use.
Young Managers' Club
One of the most successful of FINAT's initiatives is the Young Managers' Club. Noticing the large number of label converters whose owner-managers are set to retire over the next few years, FINAT set up this group two years ago "so that young managers can meet and exchange information and skills." It now has 54 members who meet regularly.
Next year in sunny Spain
The 2009 FINAT congress, which was co-hosted by the Turkish Label Association, was as usual attended by representatives of TLMI. In 2010, the event will be in Valencia, on Spain's Mediterranean coast, where the survivors of the economic storms, battered but unbowed, hopefully will be sailing on calmer seas.
Vimercati named to FINAT chair
Andrea Vimercati, the sales director of Pilot Italia, a Milan converter, has assumed the chairmanship of FINAT, Europe's label association. He succeeds Jan Frederik Vink of Kolibri Labels in The Netherlands.
The new chairman has several goals to achieve during his two-year term. One is to develop greater networking between TLMI and FINAT.
A second objective is to introduce TLMI's Project LIFE to the European label community. LIFE is a certification program for companies that establish environmentally sound practices. "We will have to choose the right approach," Vimercati says, "because if you go to a converter member and propose a new certification, they will question how many certifications they will have to have to satisfy their customers. LIFE, in my view, gives business people the opportunity to be more responsible for what they do."
A third goal is to maintain and expand the role of the Young Managers Club, "which is a good investment for an association at this time, especially when we see a lot ofgeneration change. The club will help FINAT to change itself.
"Fourth, I would like to see FINAT promote an entrepreneurial culture. When our companies were founded, it was a first step. Now we need tools, which is what our fathers expect from us as sons after having sent us to the university. When we come back we must bring new ideas, management tools, like Lean Manufacturing."