Ink World Exclusive Interview: Steve Dryden of Flint Group

Editor’s note: Steve Dryden joined Flint Group in 2013 as chief financial officer after serving as group financial director at DS Smith Plc, a leading corrugated and plastic packaging company, and was later promoted to chief executive. As he prepares to leave Flint Group, Dryden took some time to express his thoughts on his 11 years in the ink industry, the changes he has seen and the future of the ink and packaging industry.

The world of ink painting: What prompted you to join Flint Group from DS Smith in 2013 and join the ink industry?

Steve Dryden: Having had success with public companies, I was eager to test my abilities in a private entity. At that time, Flint Group was owned by CVC. I came on board at the perfect time to help redefine our strategy. Ultimately, we sold the company to Koch and Goldman Sachs, who proved to be outstanding owners. It was an ideal synergy—Koch brought a family-style business model, while Goldman Sachs recognized their expertise as operators. They wholeheartedly support our efforts to build what is today the market-leading water-based packaging business.

The world of ink painting: What is your proudest achievement at Flint Group?

Steve Dryden: I finally got the strategy and the team to a really good place, and when you put that together, our business is now light years ahead of where we were before. We now have a simple strategy and a really good team. Our goal is to give our customers what they want and help them reduce costs. Ink accounts for only 4% of their cost, but helping them reduce their overall costs (including paper usage and energy costs) is huge.

We’ve also shown that we won’t let them down – even during COVID-19, we are an excellent, reliable supplier, thanks to our employees. One thing we are proud of is our focus on safety – we obtain safety data/metrics for the European industry and Flint is a very, very safe place to work. In 2023, we had half as many safety incidents as in 2022, and we have put a lot of effort into making our workplaces safer.

The world of ink painting: What is your fondest memory of your time at Flint Group?

Steve Dryden: I learned a lot from the people I worked with. Guys like Bill Miller are a great example. Bill would sit me down and guide me through an upcoming meeting, and I always remember him telling me, “I have to get the deal done.”

The world of ink painting: In your 11 years at Flint Group, the ink industry has changed dramatically. Where is Flint Group positioned in the coming years?

Steve Dryden: Operationally, we are the lowest cost, leanest operator and we are really well positioned in that regard. I also think that in many applications we have better products than many of our competitors. When it comes to innovation, what we do really matters to our customers. We are prepared in terms of sustainability and cost.

We’re working with Xeikon in the digital space, which we joined in 2015, and what we’re doing there is really good, but there’s still going to be a need for traditional printing and inks for a long time. Publication volumes have plummeted, but we are growing in terms of packaging. Our development of Dual Cure is an example of sustainability and cost, as dual-cure UV LED inks eliminate the need for mercury lamps and energy costs, while simplifying inventory and reducing changeovers.

The world of ink painting: You came out of the packaging industry with DS Smith. How about the packaging industry?

Steve Dryden: The entire packaging sector (paper and plastics) is consolidating. I think there will be more consolidation in packaging, particularly the merger of WestRock and Smurfit and DS Smith and International Paper. If you want to increase profitability and returns, you have to grow your business and reduce costs.

The world of ink painting: What advice do you have for Heiner Klokkers, who will take over as CEO of the new publishing division of Flint Group?

Steve Dryden: I’ve known Heiner for a long time – hubergroup is a long time pigment supplier in Flint. I spoke with him after he left hubergroup and ultimately convinced him to join us – he joined an already strong team, and strong teams make work easier.

The world of ink painting: What advice do you have for current and future leaders in the ink industry?

Steve Dryden: I think the ink industry has to figure out how to be a driver of sustainability; that’s a big thing. If we don’t, we’re seen as a problem. We have to make substrates easier to recycle. The more we can drive sustainability, the more we can drive growth in inks and packaging. The packaging industry is growing at +1% of GDP; we must bring ink into a world of innovation that saves money and reduces environmental impact.

The world of ink painting: What are your plans for the next few years?

Steve Dryden: I’m working in Flint until the end of September, and my immediate plans are to ski three to four times a year and maybe drive across the country with my wife. I will also be looking for some non-executive board positions.

The world of ink painting: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Steve Dryden: The ink industry and packaging industry are such great industries. It’s an interesting mix of people who have been around for a long time and people who are new to the game, and the people who have been around always want to make things better. We are always committed to moving the business forward.

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