It is commonly said that the best supplier is one who really understands the customer’s business.

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Robert K. Simpson, new president of global plastics machinery for Milacron Inc.

It is commonly said that the best supplier is one who really understands the customer’s business. Plastics molders and extruders will be able to put that maxim to the test, now that one of their own has just been appointed president of global plastics machinery for Milacron Inc. I couldn’t help being intrigued to hear that someone with the background of Robert K. Simpson is taking that role: Former senior v.p. of operations at Textron Automotive, where he helped manage a $2 billion global business with 22 plants; then president of blow molder Kautex Textron North America; and then president of Siegel-Robert Automotive, one of the country’s largest automotive plastics molders.

Although his first month was a whirlwind tour of Milacron plants and visits to key customers, I was able to catch Simpson for a phone interview to get his thoughts on his new job. “I bring a different perspective,” he said, “I have been on that side of the equation”–meaning the processor’s side. “Just the other day,” he continued, “I sat with our sales staff to take them through the process of how a customer writes a capital appropriation request. The largest single item in that appropriation is the molding machine or extruder. But what about all those other things they need–feeders, grinders, secondary equipment? They’ve had staff cuts, leaving fewer engineering and support people to specify those items. We need to help them with that task.

“Being a good supplier is more than that initial sell. Three years after purchasing a machine, the original job it was bought for is obsolete, and now it will be making different products. It was optimized for one task initially and now needs optimization for another.” Milacron’s role, as he sees it, is to help modify that machine over time to “help the customer utilize its existing assets.”

For Simpson, that brings up an important question: “Are we a manufacturing company or an engineering firm? Engineers like to solve problems. We want our customers to perceive us more as problem solvers than just a machine builder.”