“I always think systemically”Papp Noémi
Sipospack Ltd. was born out of a garage and a succession of better and better ideas, and who better to recall its history than one of its owners, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, Gyula Sipos.
He grew up in Torbágy, a small Swabian village close to the capital in the 1960s. Where did your teachers lead you?
My class teacher, András Baktai, was a very progressive teacher. While others in eighth grade were graduating in suits, he talked us into jeans and red T-shirts, which was considered heresy in 1977.
Did it affect your career choice?
In eighth grade, he called my parents in, and my mother came home devastated. She found him saying, “he’s not going to be a manual labourer”, which my mother translated as ” he’s going to be a tramp”. But it wasn’t that, it was that my class teacher had already seen something in me, that I was always systems-oriented and that I was good at physics.
You applied to a vocational school to become an electrician, but that was a long way from packaging technology.
No one is born saying I want to work in the packaging industry. It’s a profession that doesn’t even exist in children’s minds, although from a young age they unpack this and that: toys, cottage cheese sticks. I was also guided by my parents, who saw this profession as an opportunity. But at the entrance examination, the teachers said, ‘I’m deaf – I can’t hear the engine’, so I was accepted at the electrician school, and I was so successful that as a 15-year-old youngster I was already the right-hand man for the chief electricians at the alarm and electronic system of the main post office in Kőbánya, which was being built at the time.
Did you inherit your talent from your father?
My father even had his hand on the screwdriver the wrong way round. But a friend, Ferenc Györkös, took me on as a handyman, and I started working in his garage when I was eight. At night, on weekends, I always worked for him, he showed me the different types of engines and how to wind them. At the age of fourteen I would bring the engine up from the well and only take it down again if it worked. The knowledge attracted me, and so did the pocket money. I began to understand what it was like to be my own boss.
When did packaging come into your life?
My mother and father worked in the former MIKÖV cooperative, which had its headquarters in Budapest. They were asked to produce polyethylene bags, which were very fashionable at the time. In the eighties, this was a real treasure, so much prized that it was washed and laid out on ropes to be used as long as possible. The big companies, Consumex, Agrotex, for example, produced advertising bags. They brought us thick foil, which required special machines. They were paid by the piece, so performance mattered.
You started to think, how could they be more efficient?
I was interested in how to increase the volume five or ten times. When we succeeded, others called me to look at machines in the area. The work had to be very precise, quality mattered.
Later, what replaced the advertising bag?
In the 90’s, the Tisza Chemical Combine started to produce polypropylene, more and more small businesses could be. Homemade pasta production, packaging of delicious sweets all came up in my life. I started getting more and more orders from the food industry, and then I started getting requests from the toy industry. Unfortunately, later on, the Chinese toy industry squeezed the Hungarian one out of the market. I also kept foil in our yard, garage and basement. Whatever they asked for, we packed, and I made the machines. In the meantime, of course, I worked my eight hours elsewhere full-time, and then continued in the basement of our house in Géza fejedelem utca in Biatorbágy. Our neighbour often remarked: “who forgets the light on in your house”? He didn’t know that it was on because we were working, often late into the night.
What was the first turning point?
I recycled all the profits I could, buying materials whenever I could. At one point I noticed that the competition was coming to me for foil. At first I just helped them out when they ran out, and later I became one of the polypropylene distributors for the Tisza Chemical Combine. When I was selling 2-300 tons per month, it was a milestone in the life of the company.
Many people stayed with polyethylene, but you soon found this other raw material important. Why?
I discovered quite early on that polypropylene had a certain potential. I started reading about it and then I ordered more and more of it. It was more aesthetic, better for shelf life. The processability was not easy, though. The packaging is a seemingly simple thing, wraps around, protects the product, contains information. On the other hand, the food industry has strict requirements and different expectations. Cheese and coffee require a high sealing film, salad needs ventilation and T-shirt packaging needs transparency. For me, the new material was a suggestion, and the future was hidden in it.
So much so that there is no country on Earth today where you don’t run into your own packaging. How does it feel?
Anyone who works for us is bound to be moved when they see a bag of cereal or tea on the shelf and know that they might have laminated it, printed it or made it into a bag. I’m like that too.
What’s more, the HP INDIGO 20000, a flexible-wall digital printer, is the only one in the country that Sipospack Ltd has.
We try to introduce all new technologies quickly and stay ahead of the others. Microperforation is where I see the future. The hot needle is used to perforate the polypropylene, it is visible to the naked eye, the bread does not fill up, you can touch it, the customer is attracted by the delicious smell, the product is visible. Laser perforation is also important, and we have introduced this in the company, but it also requires a special machine. It punches molecular-sized holes in the packaging material, which also results in, for example, oxygen getting in and out, but water not escaping or entering.
Seeing the opportunity is one thing, building a big company is another. Sipospack Ltd was founded in 1996. In the meantime, did you become an economist?
When I was already an employer in my company and I hired someone, I often got the question of what the job would be here. And I didn’t understand why they were asking. Everything – I always answered. But once I got discouraged and, although not in a university setting, I spent my Saturdays working on organisational structures. It was then that I realised how important job descriptions are for twenty or twenty-five employees, whether you need an organisational structure or continuous performance appraisal. Real data to make decisions on the big issues. Today, in a company of nearly a hundred people, this is even more true, a new one had to be created. We are on our third company management system, and we try to keep the organisational structure up to date.
What inspires you?
My neatness and convenience. These two have an impact on the company. For us, protective clothing was never an issue, nor was making sure everything was in place in a clean environment, and later this became a decisive factor in the food industry orders. Of course, the comfort you want can motivate you in many ways, but for me it’s about rationalising things around me, achieving more with less work.
The company has many partners at home and abroad. What do you consider as good packaging?
If something is over-packaged, I don’t like that either. The packaging should have functionality, protect what’s inside, offer a shelf life, be an experience and aestheticly pleasing for the customer.
You don’t mind plastic? The environmentalists want to push it further and further into the background.
I always say that packaging material doesn’t jump out of the car into the woods by itself. People typically like it because it’s versatile: it makes their lives easier, but it’s people’s responsibility how they treat it and how much they pollute their environment. We care about protecting the planet and our latest investment project is all about how we recycle. Plastic can be reused five to seven times. We recycle and recycle the industrial-technological waste that we produce ourselves and that our customers generate, resulting in a 100 per cent quality raw material that we turn into finished goods, such as trowel locks. All this will be largely solar-powered. We won a tender called Green Champion.
You turn sixty in a few days. Have you thought about generational change?
At that age, you think about everything, but I’ve been thinking seriously about handing over the baton for a few years now. I have two children. My daughter, although she used to work in the company but after the birth of my granddaughter, she wanted to try something different, she graduated from a school for nail design and now she sees her future in a big fitness and beauty studio in Herceghalom. My son-in-law works for our printing company, but he is also attracted by the world of sport. My son Balázs has been strengthening our business for years, he has found his place, currently working in marketing. We also have several family members working with us, which has always been important to me because I have been able to build on their reliable work. Loyalty is very important in the life of a company, for which I am particularly grateful to them. This has allowed me to run the company with peace of mind, because I have been able to rely on them to the full. At the same time, those who have been with me from the beginning know that time has moved on, and in the last few years we have consciously started to rejuvenate the management. The company slogan says that we can only really go big together – and we take it seriously. Children have been important in all our lives anyway.
Is your hobby time-consuming? Will you have something to live for?
I’ve never lived my life as just a job. I love boats, I have a hobby of dancing, especially ballroom dancing and westcoast swing, and I often ride my bike. If the youngsters are coming with me, it’s electric.