Volume 11, Issue 6 - November/December 2007

Man at Work
An Interview with Kent Davies of CPFilms
by Debra Levy 

In 2006, Solutia Inc. in St. Louis hired Kent Davies to run its Martinsville, Va.-based CPFilms business. Davies had previously worked for Kimberly Clark Corp., an Irving, Texas-based producer of paper-based consumer products, such as Kleenex facial tissue and Cottonelle toilet paper and helped to triple its size over a three-year period.

Under his direction, CPFilms has developed an aggressive growth plan of its ownómore than half of which he says will come from outside of the United States. Several of the companyís recent moves are indicative of that plan, including a deal with GM Accessories to supply all of its General Motors dealers in Mexico with LLumarģ film and a similar deal with Ford Motor Co., ZAO to supply all Ford dealers in Russia with the same product.

Davies sat down with Window Film recently for an exclusive interview and the senior vice president shared a bit about himself and his company.

Q: You were hired to run CPFilms in early 2006. How do you feel itís going so far?
I feel itís going really well. The business [CPFilms] is performing well. We have done a lot so far to develop a strategy for growth and to advance that growth plan. 

Q: What does that growth strategy include?
The most important part of it starts with a true understanding of the market. When I first came on board, the industry was pegged at $400-$500 million globally. We said, ĎOkay, if thatís the size of the market today, shouldnít we be trying to expand that size? Shouldnít we try to grow the pie rather than re-divide it?í We did the research and showed that window film is under-penetrating its market among the existing players and could be three to four times larger than it is. We then started to set our sights higher.

We looked at how it [the market] has developed and how it could develop. That market originally had developed around the auto industry. But now, today, we are really intrigued by architectural, safety and security. We thought we could bring a lot of value to each of those areas. 

Q: Are those the major growth areas then?
We also see a lot of geographical growth. We have seen the growth of CPFilms around the world. Europe is going nicely. We also have a significant growth strategy for Asia.

We have to ask ourselves, ĎWhat do potential consumers want?í We canít simply pin our future growth to the amount of glass out there. People are interested in auto accessories, governments are interested in energy savings, more and more people are interested in safety implications. There is latent consumer demand. The category could be bigger and we intend to grow it.

Q: From where do you think the greatest percentage of CPFilmsí growth will come from?
A: More than half the growth will come from outside the United States. The United States still is very important, but, obviously with aspirations for our business, Asia will be a high-growth area. We see virtually every region of the world having potential. Some will fall behind while others speed ahead. Thereís a cycle and a seasonality in every part of the world. Itís a really exciting part of the business. Thereís always a new place in the market. Follow the economic growth and youíll find it.

Q: How do you feel about South America?
Itís an incredible opportunity for us. Itís more price-competitive than other areas of the world and it causes us to be more selective about where we go in South America.

Q: Those are ambitious growth plans. How do you plan to move from those plans to actuality?
By new product developments such as those we are in the process of introducing. We are building a marketing team all over the world, and we continue to work in manufacturing. We have made great strides in that area and feel we have a strategy for growth.

The development of global channels is where we spend the most time. We have the broadest and most used product line in the world. We are spending more time with our dealer customers all over the world. We recognize the need to work with the dealer.

Q: Your background, including your time at Kimberly Clark, is in consumer products. What have been the biggest differences between the industries you worked for previously and the window film industry? What has surprised you most?
A few things have surprised me, but mostly Iíve been positively surprised. People are passionate about this industry. They are open to new ideas. Iíve talked to customers and employees about some new ways of doing things and people have been very responsive. What people who have been in the category donít realize is how much growth potential is out there. Our role as the largest player is to help the industry grow as a whole. The potential is substantial.

Q: How do you balance the needs of the company with the needs of the dealers?
Iím very big on loyalty. We want to give more to those dealers who are loyal to us and help those dealers grow a stronger base. 

Q: Can you tell Window Film readers about some of the things you are doing?
New products, of course, and the right support programs for them. Weíve started a ďHottest Room in the HouseĒ contest. The idea is to support important growth categories with efforts like the contest.

Training is another thing we do globally as a well-resourced player. In Shanghai we even have a new free-standing training center. We are proud of that footprint. We want to move beyond being the best and help people develop a market.

Q: When you expand a category, you change the way things are done. Do you, for example, see car dealerships installing film on glass on cars in the future?
Well, thatís a different, but good, way to grow. You can hit the category in many ways. Itís not exclusive. We will be covering the market in more of the places where people will buy film. We want more people exposed to film. Our job is to connect latent consumer needs with awareness. 

Q: Do you foresee selling film directly to car dealerships in the United States?
Well, this year we are testing a car dealer tint program. Itís not pervasive in the United States, not pervasive right now. But itís a wonderful profit generator for car dealerships.

Q: In Europe, the largest auto glass replacement company has film displays in most of its waiting rooms and subcontracts all its film work to one film company. Do you anticipate such an effort in the U.S.?
That model works well in many parts of the world. Itís another place consumers can connect with window film.

Q: Some dealers have mentioned that they have felt in the dark about the car dealer initiative. I also know in the past, information provided to film dealers was very tightly controlled by the company. Do you feel your film dealers are well-served by receiving such selective information?
Our new administration is open in its strategy and how that strategy is developed. We are much more open and this benefits everyone. A traditional dealer base is at the dead-center core of our strategy. This doesnít mean we wonít develop the category beyond that, but our dealers remain the core.

In terms of information-sharing, weíve been a conservative organization and thatís changing.

Q: Has it been an easy transition?
Itís been an effective transition. Almost all the moves we have made have been additive and have complemented what we already offered. We also are working hard to push our market-facing people back out into the market. Market-facing people need to be encouraged to get out with people. Our old model leveraged our technical and manufacturing expertise; we see the need to add more intimate contact to that.

Q: I have heard some complaints from dealers about CPFilms not standing behind its warranties and leaving dealers hanging. How would you respond to that?
[frowns and pauses] Iíd say itís exactly the oppositeóI canít connect the dots on that one at all. 

Q: What advice would you give to dealers about growing their own businesses?
A: I would tell the dealers to segment the market and to look at the breadth of opportunities out there. I would say to develop their business across multiple segments. I would say to select those segments that they feel they will be best at. Develop deep skills and develop employees who are capable of meeting the needs of the various segments. 

Q: What are some of the new developments you have in architectural glazing?
We are working hard on security film testing to make sure that not only industry products, but that our industryís products, are specified and approved for use in security applications. We are focused on energy savings. We believe we need to be able to speak the language of flat glass. The skill sets for film and auto and flat glass are completely different. We need those skills internally and need to make sure they extend into our customer database.

Q: What made taking this job attractive to you?
The potential to grow the market and a strong leadership team. 

Q: You are also a senior vice president of Solutia [owner of CPFilms]. How strong do you feel Solutiaís support of CP to be?
CPFilmsí place within Solutia has undergone an interesting change. Solutia did a broad-based portfolio analysis, looking for strong growth and the cash-producing businesses. Assets that didnít fit were targeted for divesture. Solutia came back and said Ďwe see this CPFilms business as a diamond in the rough.í It had reported to another division within the company. After this analysis, CPFilms was elevated to be a primary growth platform. We have nothing but strong endorsement and enthusiasm from Solutiaís management. 

Q: Solutia, especially through its laminated glass division, has always been extremely active in the building code arena. Do you see CPFilms having that high level of activity in the code arena?
Itís crucial to the development of a larger market. We will always make strong connections with regulators and legislators. Thatís a place where we are spending a lot of our time and resources.

Q: Can you explain how CPFilms is organized? 
We have four market-facing managers: North America, Europe, International and we have one for managing non-window film businesses. We have a few smaller businesses such as one that develops film for the flat screen industry, small specialty, medical devices and filters and other ways to utilize our film manufacturing assets. We also have people focused on operations and support. They are principally responsible for their own supply chain development.

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about film?
That it is a low-quality product. We see correcting these misperceptions as a process of education. Our strong warranties are a great differential in use performance. Performance also has a huge amount to do with the quality of the installation.

Q: A number of film manufacturers have eliminated their distributor programs. They sell straight to film dealers. They have no distributorships. How do you compete against the ĎGEICO-directí mentality in the film industry?
It comes back to the total package. The product is more than just a roll of film. The product includes technical training and support programs, quality public relations to build the category and the willingness to stand behind the product. There are many other costs that go into film installation. 

Q: So itís not frustrating to compete against such companies?
[long pause] Itís out there, but itís not a driving issue in the category. Building a sophisticated customer base is the most important thing. Thereís a real challenge to building something rather than managing something.

Q: 3M has made a lot of interesting moves in the past two years, greatly reducing the number of distributors and dealers. Any thoughts on its strategy?
A: 3M is a capable competitor and it will be interesting to see what happens.

Q: The window film industry waged a valiant effort to allow film to be used as laminated glass or shutters are in hurricane-prone areas. The effort was not successful and film is not allowed as a hurricane-resistant product in bellwether areas such as Dade County. Do you foresee a time when film will be included in the Dade County hurricane code?
Particularly in applications like hurricane protection, we want to make sure that people understand clearly the products and the differences among them. We plan to help with more local outreach. Thereís so much need in the marketplace that consumer demand will win out and we will see much more application of film on glass. Film has applications beyond hurricanes. Different types of natural disasters happen in different places and film can be helpful in many of them, including earthquakes.

Q: Everyone has their own motivators and their own yardsticks by which they measure success. What will make you feel successful at CPFilms?
If the business grows in accordance with our expectations. I also will measure success by how much more weíve grown and have given to dealer base and how well weíve managed and maintained a positive culture.

Q: Tell us a little about your personal background.
I grew up in Philadelphia and Western Massachusetts and went to college at Berkeley. I worked initially for General Mills in sales and went back and got an MBA. I felt a good fit there and stayed on to work full-time. After I graduated, I was hired by 3M in its health care marketing group. I felt lucky to be part of it. After a few years, I went to Kimberly Clark and worked my way up through marketing and then general management and even lived and worked in Brussels, Belgium, for a while. 

Q: Did you have your family with you?
Yes, I was recently married and we had our first daughter on the way when we moved to Brussels. Then I moved on to a St. Louis-based company that had a lot in common with CPFilms. It was a few hundred million-dollar company that we grew rapidly. The size of my business at Kimberly Clark also tripled in a few years. Solutia was looking for someone who had that type of experience.

Q: So what kind of things do you do for fun?
Iím an avid golfer. I like to spend time with the kids and run before work. I enjoy travel but I do that mostly through my work. 

Q: How old are your children?
Nine, five and three. With three young children, travel is a little challenging, but I have a lot of support on the home front.

Q: Are there any other messages you would like to bring our readers?
That itís a shared journey. We see the dealers as our partners. Our job is to provide the dealer community with the right materials, the right business tools and the right sales representation to be successful. Our strategy comes back to serving the dealers.

Q: Who are your heroes?
My personal heroes have been mentors in my careerópeople who have shown me ways to manage a business and ways to treat people.

My first boss at General Mills stressed people. His name was Mike Jensen. He taught me to remember who you are and where you came from. He showed me how important it was to have a certain set of core principles and to not violate them in pursuit of business opportunities. John Metz was president of my division at Kimberly Clark. He gave me a lot of perspective on responsibility and personal leadership by taking responsibility for important decisions. 

Q: Is there anything else youíd like to tell the readers?
Youíve given me a couple of opportunities to make speeches. I think youíve heard everything. 

Q: Thank you.
Thank you. 

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