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Coatings tech profile: a conversation with Rick Hille, FSCT president.

It's as simple as that, folks."... With these words, FSCT President Richard M. Hille often tackles the tough subjects and relays them to his audience in as straightforward a manner as possible. Whether the subject is complex governance issues, critical budgetary concerns, or strategic direction, Rick draws on his scientific and business experience to take complicated facts and formulas and reduce them to their most essential ingredients. Named the 82nd president of the Federation of Societies for Coatings Technology at the organization's Annual Meeting in November 2003, Rick takes office in a period of intense introspection and change for the organization. Over the past several years, decisions have been made which will impact FSCT's organizational structure, financial security, and future viability. It will be a critical part of Rick's tenure to respond to these decisions and establish the foundations through which positive growth and stability can occur.

With characteristic directness, Rick set the tone for the coming year in an address to the Board of Directors in which he made recommendations relating to such difficult issues as FSCT governance, the development of alternate-year events to counter the impact of an every-other-year ICE, as well as a special Board vote on fundamental changes to the FSCT membership structure.

For the problem-solving and organizational skills needed to tackle such a full agenda, Rick credits his professional experience, notably for the last eight years with The Flood Company in Hudson, OH. As vice president of operations, Rick is responsible for the major physical issues within the company, from manufacturing, distribution, procurement, purchasing and factory engineering, to pertinent personnel issues such as environmental safety and compliance. Although Rick is now involved in the manufacturing side of the industry, he began his career on the bench at The Sherwin-Williams Company in Chicago, IL.

Involved with the FSCT since the early 1970s, he served on its Executive Committee from 1988-92. Rick's ability to represent the FSCT in complex times began years ago, in his role as Co-Chair of the FSCT/NPCA Industry Advisory Committee. He received the FSCT President's Award in 1993 in appreciation of his efforts in facilitating cooperative programs with the National Paint & Coatings Association.


A former Trustee of the CIEF, Rick is particularly eloquent when speaking on behalf of the need to educate students to enter our industry.

Despite this level of professional commitment, Rick places strong priority on his family life. He has been married to his wife, Claudia, for over 32 years. Son Brian (29) is a "computer jockey for Wells Fargo" in Iowa and daughter, Kristin (23), works with a meeting planning firm in Pennsylvania. In addition to family, Rick's passion is golf. He finds his time on the links to be a welcome respite, a time "to cleanse my mind. It's probably the only time that my mind is not worrying about something in my career, something in my personal life, or something in my professional pursuits."

CoatingsTech recently met with Rick to discuss his early days with the Federation and his insights into the future. Ironically, one of Rick's favorite quotations is truly an understatement for the days ahead. As he continues his tenure as FSCT president, Rick is guided by the words of baseball great, Yogi Berra--"The future ain't quite what it used to be!"

CT: At the recent meeting of the FSCT Board, you spoke of the need for the FSCT to remain relevant. How can an organization that is over 80 years old stay relevant?

RH: With a lot of effort ... a lot of introspection ... a lot of work ... a lot of patience ... a lot of understanding--and a lot of risk!



There's no doubt that volunteer organizations by their very nature have huge inertia and they are not easily changed. Yet the business landscape that we are all working in has changed dramatically. We can talk about the number of paint companies that there used to be compared with the number there is now. What every employee is asked to do in terms of time on the job has put all sorts of stress on volunteerism.

Competition has placed concern on the sharing of information--which is the pillar of why the Federation exists. We exist to share information. There are some corporate structures that don't feel that that is quite appropriate and there are others that believe they know all there is to know. At the risk of treading close to the words of George Baugh Heckel, "there is no manufacturer so wise that his technical and production staff cannot gain something of value ... No one knows it all--not even all of what one should know."

CT: How did you first become involved with the FSCT?

RH: That's interesting. I started with Sherwin-Williams in 1968 and my boss was Vic Willis. Vic, now an FSCT Honorary member, was quite involved. He was Chicago Society Representative on the FSCT Board for many years. He got me involved in Society activities right out of the box. At the time Sherwin-Williams had a policy with junior chemists--they didn't pick up the tab for Society membership. So, I didn't actually become a member until I worked on a paper collaboratively with some people at DeSoto, around 1970. That's when Sherwin-Williams let me know that they wanted me to become a member. Looking back and knowing now what a great organization it is, I should have paid for it out of my own pocket, but right out of college, the extra money seemed to be too much!

Early on, I had no idea what the Federation was all about, but I had thorough enjoyment with what I learned from my association with the Chicago Society. I mean, there's no doubt that this helped my career in a variety of ways ... in developing technical skills, developing rapport with my peers, and in understanding what the paint industry is all about. A majority of people I've talked with did not enter the coatings industry with purpose. They entered the industry because it was maybe one of the best job offers they had, and, once they get involved, they tend not to leave! I was the same way. I had no idea what paint was all about. Absolutely no idea. And, of course, my beginnings with the The Sherwin-Williams Company and my association with the Chicago Society helped me to understand.

CT: Unlike our political leaders, FSCT presidents do not have a "platform," but many have a specific area of interest that helps set direction during their tenure. What is your particular "passion"?

RH: Well, in my career, I have moved from the bench to the manufacturing sector and I've been concerned over past years that FSCT is not providing necessary services to that sector. We have found ourselves, with certain justification, strong justification, leaning towards the needs of the scientist and the formulating chemist. In my estimation this has been to the detriment of the pragmatic skills that are needed to make the product. Without all of the other fundamental structural issues that FSCT must address this year, that would be my goal ... to rekindle the collegial relationship that manufacturing personnel have had within our industry.

CT: What are some of those issues?

RH: Over the past three to five years it has become apparent that the primary means we have used to subsidize our educational activities and our membership is at threat. It has also become apparent that the cost of education, the "true" cost of education, is difficult to recoup directly. I'm not sure whether that is an industry issue or a historical issue for us but it is difficult to command a true cost for educational seminars, periodicals, etc. It appears to be absolutely necessary that we begin to generate certain events that have commercial implications, the types of programs that our community in total can justify as an expense. Which is a long way of saying that if we are to continue in any semblance of our past activities, it is necessary to create venues of value that are sustainable, but also venues of profitability. That may sound capitalistic, or perhaps it is essentially pragmatic, but it does appear to be what we are facing.

CT: What would you like to see accomplished over the next year to address this?

RH: Personally I'm not adroit enough to have all the solutions, but I was extremely impressed with the recent report of the Events Steering Committee and their suggestions of how to accomplish these goals ... meaningful venues that are value-driven and profitable. At the core of their recommendation is a more focused approach to education. There is no doubt that our industry has become more specialized in what they require from their professional staff and we have to respond in kind. Our challenge is to be sure that we are addressing the key, most meaningful, timely subject matters that our constituency wishes. If indeed we can do that ... they will come. First out of curiosity and then out of recognition of value.

CT: How do you think participation in FSCT can help someone address the challenges that are facing our industry?

RH: There is the obvious ... seminars that enhance your skills .. collaboration with colleagues ... networking ... In putting all these together, I've personally found that educational associations will at some point in time give to any individual who participates, some type of "nugget." Quite frankly, it only has to be one to pay for all the time, effort, and expense. And that nugget could be one that benefits him or her personally or benefits their company. Hopefully it is a nugget that benefits our industry as a whole. Because as much as we compete, we have pressures put upon us as an industry. The regulators don't care about Sherwin-Williams, ICI, The Flood Company, etc.... They are concerned about the "bad" paint guys who are polluting. So, I would submit that, to the extent we can help each other and help our industry, we strengthen our individual cause and, of course, that is the core of what we in the Federation do.
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Title Annotation:FSCT News
Publication:JCT CoatingsTech
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Previous Article:Crosslinking workshop featured at FSCT Midyear.
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