Kevin Koelsch

Kevin Koelsch Headshot

The Power of One

Koelsch Receives 2010 IADD PEAK Award

Depressed economy. Plant closings. Downsizings. Furloughs. Wage freezes.

Technical expertise. Industry passion. Willingness to serve. Get-it-done attitude. Smiling face.

The former paragraph describes the darkness of our industry for much of 2009 and 2010. The latter describes a shining beacon that sliced through those dark times, also known as Kevin Koelsch, Technical Director of National Steel Rule Co., headquartered in Linden, NJ, USA. Koelsch has been named the most recent recipient of the IADD PEAK Award, which celebrates Passion, Excellence, Achievement, and Knowledge.

Koelsch was recognized for his numerous contributions to the IADD and industry during a time when many pessimistically wondered “what’s the point?!?” His achievements clearly demonstrate the power of one person.

His whatever-it-takes attitude is reminiscent of the parable about a man walking along a beach littered with thousands of starfish which had washed ashore and which were dying in the hot sun. He encounters a woman who is busily picking them up and gently throwing them back into the ocean. When he protests, “There are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it - you can’t possibly make a difference,” she bends down, picks up another starfish, throws it with a smile and says, “but I made a difference to that one.”

“The IADD is a great organization because of people like Kevin,” explains Bob Pettijohn, President of Mark-Maker Company, Inc., who nominated Koelsch for the award. “Whatever you ask him to do—he just does it. He is a huge, positive force in the IADD, and I can only think of a very few people who are as recognizable to so many of us. He is always here for the IADD, especially now, when people like him are so needed.” Petiijohn also commends National Steel for recognizing Koelsch’s talents and allowing him the freedom to help so many companies in the industry.

Koelsch’s impact has been far-reaching, as elaborated by Pettijohn, “Passion: he really loves his job, is always eager to help, and rarely says no to any request. Excellence: he is excellent at what he does, and people believe in what he says. Achievement: he is a two-time board member, Odyssey speaker, does workshop programs, delivers great chapter meeting presentations, writes Cutting Edge articles, co-chairs the Recommended Specifications task force, and serves on numerous IADD projects and committees. Kevin also participates in TAPPI, AICC, FPPA and FTA. And finally, Knowledge: his knowledge of rotary diecutting is certainly one of the best, from over 30 years’ experience. He holds four industry-related U.S. patents.”

Koelsch didn’t get a sure start in the industry. After high school he ran a pool installation crew and was an auto mechanic for a short time. His mother worked for the Board of Education and in 1977 told him about a company that was hiring called Dynamic Dies. When Koelsch showed up to fill out an application, they turned him away. Later in the month a friend from high school told him to come to where he worked and apply for a job ... of course it was Dynamic Dies. This time they hired him at $3.75 an hour. Once in the door, he started as a draftsman and signed up for every job no one else wanted to do. This volunteerism and helpful attitude fast-tracked him through every stage of the steel rule diemaking process, for which he showed a natural aptitude. He worked there for 31 years.

This was a time of rapid growth and expansion for Dynamic Dies, Inc. (DDI). They bought out a shop in Pittsburgh about in mid 1978 and a year later entered into a partnership with City Stamp Works (CSW), a print platemaker in West Springfield, MA, USA. This partnership expanded to buy out a platemaker in Rochester, NY named Cadmus Reprographic. The new CSW Rochester operation wanted to add rotary and flat steel rule cutting dies to their repertoire. Koelsch, as he teIls it, “volunteered again and amazingly got the gig. I went from making dies to running a three-man shop (including me) in a little less than three years. I found a space, bought equipment; hired people and we made dies. The plant grew over the next five years to about 12 people and two shifts. It was one of the most consistently profitable DDI operations.”

In 1985 CSW print plate division and DDI cutting die division moved into a new joint manufacturing building together. Koelsch trained in print plate manufacture and ran production for both sides of the operation. In 1990 he was brought back to DDI headquarters and promoted to corporate manufacturing manager, in charge of technical training and standardization across the organization. In 1994 the owners of DDI asked him to take the role of GM for the Centralized Plate and Die Manufacturing Operation in Holland, OH. From 1998 to 2008 he created and lead the Technical Services Arm of the company. Along those lines, he also developed the High End Graphics Unit. This involved recruiting Clemson graduates, buying new technology, and forging processes to service the emerging high graphics on corrugated market. Over this time he spent a great deal of it in box plants across the country, problem solving converting systems and doing application training for crews.

Koelsch became involved in IADD because the owner of Dynamic Dies, John Pohlman, wanted to show his continuing support of the organization and thought that Kevin would be just the right person to do that. He felt IADD allowed him to be associated with an industry fellowship that provides support, knowledge and friendship in a useful and meaningful way.

Beginning in 2008, Koelsch went to work for National Steel Rule, which he describes as “the best thing since sliced bread. I love the family business. I love the people, and I really fit in with the leadership. Eddie Mucci Jr. is a great person to work for, and with. The whole National family is just great. They are positive, sharp (no pun intended), and hard working.”

Koelsch’s first role model was his dad, who had been crippled by polio, yet never let that stop him in any way. His Dad ran a successful business making shoes for the handicapped and managed to comfortably support a family of eight children. He rarely asked for help and Kevin firmly believes that his father did every bit as much—or more—as anyone could have done with full physical abilities. He lovingly relates that his dad made him very positive and optimistic and taught him that most problems could be solved with a little ingenuity.

Another role model was Richard Jambasian, the now-deceased former owner of City Stamp Works, who took Kevin under his wing while still a kid. Kevin was taught all about the printing plate business by Richard and was always treated by him with utmost respect and fairness. Whenever Kevin wanted to make bold moves, Richard supported him. Kevin always found Richard great fun to be around and freely admits that to this day he misses him very much.

Koelsch was also influenced greatly by John Pohlman and Tom Sullivan, his former bosses at Dynamic whom he sees as “salt and pepper,” never being able to think of one without the other. They made an excellent team together and taught Kevin a great deal through the years. He admits it was a challenge at times working for someone else. “I’ve always been strong headed, especially when I was young and cocky. After I rose to a high position in management, it took me a long time to fully accept that it was not my own company that I was running and that I wasn’t always going to get to make the final decision.”

Asked his advice to someone considering entering our industry he says, “Find a segment of it that you really like. This industry has many opportunities. Pick one and remember that you probably can’t do very well at something you hate doing, but always be willing to take on some of the lousy or difficult jobs. They will teach you more than you can imagine and others will respect you for it.”

For those already in the industry, Koelsch feels a successful manager is “open, responsive, knowledgeable and reliable.” He recommends hiring the right people, empowering them, and keeping a good eye on the bottom line. He feels a great company will “understand how to maximize the human effort. Realize that everyone has a special something to offer. By defining, aligning and focusing these natural characteristics, individuals excel and when individuals excel, the company wins. A company need clear vision, concise leadership, and a concerted effort.”

Kevin’s wife of 32 years is his soul mate, Barbara. They have four children, ages 21 through 30, Jill, Joe, Carly and Chris. Three of them have run marathons. Jill is a speech pathologist; Joe, a fireman turned teacher; Carly, a pediatric nurse; and Chris, a video editor/photographer. He describes his Barbara as “a domestic goddess, counselor, business manager and vacation director.” Over the years, many of their vacations have been taken together as a family and camping was always a favorite activity. They are indeed a very tight knit, loving group. Asked how he’d like to be remembered? “As a fair and unselfish person, a loving husband and father, a good provider and someone who worked hard, played hard and loved life.”

IADD President Greg Zimmer of Zimmer Industries said, “Kevin, you were chosen as this year’s PEAK Award winner because of your tireless hard work, dedication and accomplishments. We sincerely thank you for everything you do, both for our association and for our industry.”

This is the power of one: Kevin Koelsch, 2010 IADD PEAK Award recipient.