Images sat down with the new CEO at M&R Companies, Danny Sweem, to discuss his background, his goals for the company, and what the future holds for both M&R and the screen printing community

Danny Sweem, M&R’s new CEO, has big boots to fill. The outgoing CEO, Rich Hoffman, founded the company in 1985 and is a well-known and respected industry figure on both sides of the Atlantic.

Within a few minutes of conversation, however, it’s quickly apparent that Danny, who is from South Carolina, US, is more than capable of taking on the challenge of running the print machinery manufacturing company. His credentials are impressive: he joins M&R from ink company Nazdar, where he was vice president of the textile division, and the extensive knowledge he has gained in the variety of positions he has held since entering the industry gives him a unique insight into what printers want from their machines.

Danny started out in the industry during the late 1980s working in a sporting goods store that he eventually bought. He then added a second store, which he admits didn’t do so well. “We fell on some challenging times. I realised that we were outsourcing a lot of screen print for uniforms and local clubs and the printed things that we sold in our actual stores, so we brought that in-house. It turned into the most profitable part of our business. Ultimately we wrapped up the retail side and became a screen printer – that’s where I learned screen print.”

In 1993 he took a job working in the lab at Rutland Plastic Technologies, answering calls and helping run experiments. He moved up through the business, ending up as director of sales and marketing, before taking a job with a large, private label screen print and embroidery business. “They did a lot of institutional print programmes for people like Adidas,” Danny explains. “I learned about the other back end of the printing and textile business, beyond just inks, beyond being a small printer, beyond being a retailer.” He moved back to Rutland as vice president of sales and learned how to interact with private equity companies. He joined Nazdar in 2009, a company he stayed with until his move to M&R.

There will be a crossover period for Danny and Rich of an as yet unspecified length, he says. “Rich and I have talked about the right amount of time and I was pretty honest with him, I said I’m going to be following him around quite a bit with a notepad and absorbing as much information as I can. The timing will be what the timing is, I don’t want to put a date on it: it could be as early as 30 days, but it could be much longer than that depending on what my needs are, and I don’t know what I don’t know yet.”

Tomorrow’s solutions

His current goals for M&R – those that he’ll share publicly anyway – are to ensure that the company is creating solutions for its customers before they know they need them. “I’m fascinated with the trajectory of the industry. People are going to wear clothes for many years to come, and they’re going to be embellished and manufactured and decorated in different ways than they have been for the last 20 years. So much of that is going to be down to automation. M&R is in a unique position, as are a number of other companies, to develop that technology. The challenge is we’ve got to foresee what that is, what it looks like, how it’s automated. Manufacturing will take place closer to large population bases, more so than in far outposts, because transit times are so important, and I think digital is going to play a big role in that.”

T-shirts printed on M&R’s Digital Squeegee at the Fespa 2018 Global Print Expo

He doesn’t see the industry moving from screen to digital completely, but he does expect to see the digital side continue to grow while screen printing reaches a plateau. “It’s not going to grow at the percentage rates that digital will, so we have to make sure we’re performing well in the digital space. We need to be leading the way in that category – that’s an area that’s an opportunity for improvement; it’s an opportunity for us to perpetuate the brand.

“The orientation for M&R going forward, and I think it has been previously, is as a customer-centric company. Whatever the customer’s needs are, we need to find out what the solutions are, to develop the best technology for our customers for tomorrow.”

As part of this looking forward approach, the company is already looking beyond the hybrid, a machine that is only just starting to be taken up by print shops. “The technology is going to continue to evolve, but we’re going to create scenarios that maybe the hybrid is here for a while at a very prominent level – and it’s just starting that level now – but I don’t know that that arc continues on forever. I think that there’s a replacement that might be even more advantageous that’s a couple of years away. In the near term, it is going to be hybrid for a while and people will monetise that in a big way, and those who get on it now will monetise it in a massive way, but there are ideas beyond that.

“There’s an old saying that a friend of ours repeats regularly, so I’ll repeat it – it’s from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky. Someone asks him why he’s so good, what makes Wayne Gretzky this great hockey player, and he says the answer is he doesn’t play the puck where it’s at, he plays it where it’s going to be. We’ve got to be that company and look upstream and develop the connections that are going to help give us the best possible view of what tomorrow looks like and what the day after tomorrow looks like. If we can develop that technology and provide that information to our customers, then we’re genuinely providing a service and benefit to our customers: we’re not reacting to the market where it’s at, we’re reacting and developing where it’s going to be.”

Ink trends

In spite of the growing importance of digital textile printing, M&R under Danny’s direction is still very much involved in, and committed to, the screen printing industry. Indeed, Danny’s extensive background in ink allows him to appreciate the creativity of screen print and the importance of different technologies in bringing out the best of the various inks. He’s also keenly aware of trends such as the current movement to water-based inks. “It’s happening at a very rapid rate now,” he states. “Waterbased is displacing plastisol at a pretty regular rate. Plastisol is not dead and gone by any stretch, but consumers and brands in many cases prefer waterbased for a variety of different reasons, and so you’ve seen plastisol atrophy a bit.” It’s still the largest part of the business, he adds, but water-based and silicones are becoming more prominent, with silicone proving popular on sports garments due to its stretch capabilities and its ability to fight dye migration.

As for whether M&R will ever venture into the ink production game, Danny’s response is polite yet swift: “No. There’s nothing that I see on the horizon right now in the ink game. We’re interested in inks because sometimes inks run better in certain circumstances and we have to be in tune with all of that.”

The company’s goal, he explains, is much simpler: “We want tomake the best in class automation equipment.” Whether that is screen, digital, hybrid, post-hybrid or something completely different is hard to say at the moment, but with Danny in possession of the puck, get ready to see some goal shots soon.