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A Decade of Awakenings

It was 10 years ago that the finishing industry welcomed my uneducated self.
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It may have been a Beethoven or Rachmaninoff piece that was playing in the background, I just don’t recall, but there I sat 10 years ago this month in the lobby of my daughter’s piano class while trying to read and comprehend highly ordered nanoporous anodic aluminum oxides, as well understanding why I would want to convert from iron to zinc phosphate in my powder coating operation.

I had in my hand that day the Products Finishing Directory and Technology Guide, a robust annual manual of technical gobbledygook for which I was now cramming as I knew I was about to start in a week my tenure as editor of this magazine with absolutely no clue what any of this stuff meant. It then dawned on me, sitting there waiting for her lesson to end, that I had a better chance of understanding Ludwig’s Violin Concerto or Sergei’s Symphonic Dances than I did absorbing any of the technical know-how that I would need for this job.

It was a decade ago, in March 2010, that I came aboard to be your fearless ambassador, to shepherd the knowledge of what is obviously one of the most technically savvy segments of the manufacturing industry into a monthly compendium of all things plating, anodizing, liquid and powder coating, and so much more.

At the time of my hiring, I was about to reenter the publishing world which I had grown up in as a newspaper writer and editor. I left the industry that I loved to join the golf world, not as the next Ben Crenshaw or Ernie Els, but with the PGA Tour, where I helped run a Champions Tour event and felt like a kid in a candy store hanging around Arnie, Jack, Lee and Chi-Chi. And now I was back in the print industry, as editor of a stately eight-decade-old industrial publication that was a little out of my comfort zone.

The first weeks on the job, I hit the road to see what this thing called finishing and coating was all about. I soon found myself sitting among eight players in Grand Rapids, at a dinner put together by our friends at Haviland for a story on the state of the plating industry. I could sense the eyes on me as I tried unsuccessfully to impress these owners and managers with my knowledge of their industry. It was then that I learned my greatest lesson so far in my last 10 years: just shut up and listen.

They spoke and I soaked it all in. Those platers explained what it was like in 2010 to own a shop and have every regulator inspecting you on what seemed like a weekly basis. Or how it was to lose a customer to China. Or how their business friends sometimes still saw them as a pariah. It was painful, but yet hopeful. They had passion for their jobs and their customers, and it opened my eyes to what the industry was all about.

I recall having lunch with John Cole from Parker Ionics sometime that first few weeks, and just pounding him with question after question about the powder coating sector — what made a good coater, what consisted of good equipment, and how was one technique better than the other. Like many in the powder coating industry early on for me, John answered every question and brought up new topics for me to think about. He even took me back to his factory and let me coat a few parts in their lab area.

And that is the way it has been for the last 10 years: people in this industry have opened their arms to me and made me feel welcome. They have invited me into their shops and product showrooms, took me on tours and introduced me to people, shared a good meal or even a beer. More importantly, they have shared their expertise and enthusiasm for the finishing industry. I ask a lot of questions from time to time and I don’t recall even once that someone didn’t explain it to me, nor did ´╗┐they ever show a hint of aggravation with me for asking it.

I have been all over North America to see the best that the finishing and coating industry has to offer, and I like what I see. I’ve used an app to track my travel and, as of a few weeks ago, it was 162,713 miles in these 10 years, making 102 trips and visiting 77 cities over 382 days. I can honestly say that every day was an awakening, a great experience to meet readers of this magazine and get the pulse of the industry and learning what matters to them. It has been my job over the past decade to take that information and make Products Finishing an even better publication to serve the needs of the readers.

I felt very intimidated taking this position,; but that almost all went away when meeting the women and men who make the finishing industry so great. Whether it was Beethoven or Rachmaninoff I was listening to that day, the last 10 years has been nothing but sweet music for me and for that I can’t thank you all enough.