The Midwest earned the nickname “America’s Heartland” in part because of its crucial role in the nation’s manufacturing industry. So perhaps it’s no surprise that ACMA’s incoming chair of the board of directors, Fred Sanford, is the third association leader in a row to hail from the state of Ohio. He follows Scott Balogh, president and CEO of Mar-Bal Inc., and Kevin Barnett, now retired from Core Molding Technologies.
Sanford, vice president and general manager at Röchling Glastic Composites in Cleveland, isn’t a native Buckeye, however. That honor goes to the Boston area, though Sanford has lost much of the city’s distinctive accent. “When I graduated from Northeastern University, I went to work for GE Plastics. Two years in they sent me to Holland,” he says. “That had the effect of washing out much of my Boston accent.”
During his 35-plus year career in the polymer industry, Sanford has worked on three continents in locations ranging from Hong Kong and Tokyo to Atlanta and Pittsfield, Mass. “Fred has a long history in plastics and has broad work experiences,” says Barnett, who served as a member of ACMA’s Board of Directors alongside Sanford for four years. “He comes from a technical background and has served in business leadership roles in both the U.S. and internationally.”
Sanford’s vast experience makes him an ideal leader as ACMA prepares for the future under the guidance of new CEO Cindy Squires. They both began their respective roles with the association on July 1. (For more information on Squires, read the article on page XX.)
Wearing Many Professional Hats
Sanford’s passion for polymers began as a chemical engineering student at Northeastern during a co-op position with the U.S. Army Materials and Mechanics Research Center, where he worked on FRP ballistic protection for military vehicles. His second co-op assignment was with GE Plastics, the company that hired him upon graduation.
“The combination of getting fascinated about materials at that early stage of my engineering education, as well as the opportunity to work in a place like GE, drew me into the industry in the glory days of plastics,” says Sanford.
If there’s a theme song to his career, it’s “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra. “I probably didn’t follow many of the rules or walk the expected career path for someone with my background,” he chuckles. “At my core I have always been a scientist, which is where I started after graduation, but I quickly realized I wasn’t satisfied simply doing research or development in a lab. I wanted to see things become real, so I made a point of making career changes into the commercial side.”
Sanford worked for GE Plastics until 1992, primarily in R&D and product development with a two-year stint as a manufacturing engineer in Holland. In 1993, he joined Polymer Corp., which changed names several times. During his time with Polymer Corp., DSM Engineering Plastic Products, Quadrant EPP and Mitsubishi Plastics, he held numerous positions in R&D, business development, operations, supply chain management and sales and marketing.
“Bouncing around among disciplines was intentful,” he says. “I wanted to have a very rounded, ground-level experience in business. It probably resulted in a much longer career path, but it was for a specific reason.”
Leading the Way in Industry Advancements
Throughout his career, Sanford has been involved in many cutting-edge projects. Early on, he worked in the same technology group at GE with legendary industry leaders, including Dan Fox, a celebrated scientist who held 44 patents and was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1976. The group invented and patented Gecet, an expanded polystyrene blend. Sanford also helped improve the process for manufacturing with ULTEM™ amorphous thermoplastic polyetherimide (PEI) resins.
While working as a manufacturing engineer for GE Plastics Europe in the Netherlands, Sanford contributed to production of an ultra-clean polycarbonate for CDs and other media. Later at Polymer Corp., he collaborated on a project to bring advanced plastic materials to the semiconductor industry.
“Every one of those projects was about something new – a new business, a new process or a new product,” he says. “Introducing something new, then making it real has always been the driver for me.”
In 2014, Sanford joined Röchling Glastic Composites. Founded in 1946, Glastic Corporation was one of the first commercial fiberglass operations in the country. In 2007, the company was acquired by the Röchling Group, which has three divisions: automotive, medical and industrial. Röchling Glastic focuses on the industrial market, producing high-performance thermoset sheets, rods and pultruded profiles primarily for electrical equipment manufacturers.