FEATURE — Winter 2008
   

 
David Beckmann, A.B. ’70, M.B.A. ’72

He’s Got It Covered

Alumnus David Beckmann has spent more than 30 years shaping packaging designs that provide for the safe and efficient delivery of consumer products.

By Lisa Cary

Congratulations—You’re a Winner! The lure of finding this phrase printed on the underside of a plastic bottle cap undoubtedly inspires teenagers to purchase thousands of additional bottles of their favorite soft drinks.

In their search for the prize-winning message, those teens probably never stop to think about the bottle cap in terms of its design, function, and ease of use—and that’s just the way it should be, says David Beckmann, A.B. ’70, M.B.A. ’72. As the man responsible for the creation and manufacture of most of those plastic caps, he knows that consumers of all ages only notice “packaging closure design” if it’s problematic.

Beckmann is the managing director of Closures for the British company, Rexam, the leading beverage can manufacturer and second-largest consumer packaging company in the world. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are among the soft drinks packaged in aluminum cans, and that also use plastic closures manufactured by Rexam at more than 100 manufacturing facilities around the globe.

“Contests aside, packaging isn’t generally considered a provocative subject,” says Beckmann, “but we wouldn’t have our current quality of life without it. Our role is to provide safe and efficient delivery of medicines, beverages, food, cosmetics, and other products to consumers.”

In fact, you probably have Rexam products in your home right now. The company manufactures much of the packaging you take for granted, but depend on, every day. In addition to Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, Beckmann’s plastics division boasts a client roster that includes Campbell Soup Company, Colgate-Palmolive, cosmetics giants Avon and L’Oreal, and drug manufacturers Pfizer, Abbott Laboratories, and GlaxoSmithKline, among others.

David Beckmann, managing director of Closures for Rexam, discusses production issues with employees in the company’s Injection Closure Evaluation Center in Perrysburg, Ohio. Rexam is the leading beverage can manufacturer and second-largest consumer packaging company in the world.

Plastic is now the fastest-growing sector within the $450 billion global consumer packaging market. In 2007, London-based Rexam decided to shed its glass business and expand into the lucrative U.S. plastics market by acquiring American manufacturer O-I Plastics.

Rexam also secured the expertise of key members of the O-I Plastics management staff, including Beckmann, then serving as vice president of global commercial operations for O-I’s Closure & Specialty Products division. “I had gone to work for O-I right after my M.B.A. graduation from Washington University,” says Beckmann, “and I was still with the company when the Plastics Group was purchased by Rexam.”

Today, as the head of Rexam’s Closures division, Beckmann oversees its management—including research and development (R&D), manufacturing, pricing, sales, distribution, and compliance—from his offices in Perrysburg, Ohio. Last year, the division generated global sales of about $875 million.

The growing market for plastic pharmaceutical closures makes Beckmann’s division a star performer within his company and the packaging industry. Rexam’s purchase of O-I Plastics positioned it as No. 1 in U.S. prescription pharmaceutical packaging with a 70 percent share of the current market.

“Rexam’s pharmaceutical plastics sector grew 9 percent last year, compared to annual growth of just 3 to 4 percent for the general packaging industry,” says Beckmann.

Plastic is now the fastest-growing sector within the $450 billion global consumer packaging market.

Growth is partly due to an increasing demand for innovative, well-designed medical packaging that’s child-proof—but not adult-proof—as American baby boomers enter their “senior” years. “Most people don’t realize how much mechanical engineering goes into closure design,” says Beckmann. “We are continually testing new systems to help consumers dispense their medicines safely, easily, and accurately.”

Another factor driving up demand for new medical packaging is the recent rise in medical counterfeiting. So-called “intelligent” packaging includes tamper evidence and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) features that allow drug manufacturers and pharmacies to validate and track medicines throughout the supply chain.

At the time Beckmann joined the staff at O-I in the early 1970s, more than 200 children under the age of 5 were dying each year in the United States due to accidental ingestion of household cleaners and medications. Congress enacted the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in 1970 and established the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1972.

Plastic’s molding capabilities made it well-suited to child-resistant packaging and a host of other applications. Recognizing the growth potential in the newly developing plastics industry, the young Beckmann decided it would be a good place to start a career.

“It’s exciting to be part of a company and an industry that is constantly reinventing itself,” he says. “It’s quick, demanding work. Twenty-five percent of our growth comes from new product creation.”

“It’s exciting to be part of a company and an industry that is constantly reinventing itself,” he says. “It’s quick, demanding work. Twenty-five percent of our growth comes from new product creation.”

Beckmann stays sharp by traveling the globe—to Rexam headquarters in London and manufacturing facilities in Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Hungary, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Operations must meet strict corporate and governmental standards for safety and environmental performance while striving for continual improvements in efficiency and waste reduction.

Looking back, Beckmann credits his early professional success to Washington University’s emphasis on learning both inside and outside the classroom. “I was an OK student,” he says, “but the experiences that really helped me were the opportunities to develop leadership—in my fraternity Kappa Sigma, the Student Union government, the InterFraternity Council, and other organizations.”

He met his wife, Esther Strenger Beckmann, A.B. ’71, M.A. ’73, on campus. After the couple married and moved to Ohio for his job, Esther earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and now has a successful private practice in Toledo, where they reside.

The Beckmanns have returned to St. Louis often over the years. “We’re a Washington University family,” he says. “Having visited the campus and spoken to our daughter and son about what a positive school experience we’d had there, we were delighted when they both chose to attend the University for their undergraduate education.”

The Beckmann’s daughter, Katherine (Katie), A.B. ’99, studied psychology at the University before earning a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is now finishing her doctoral studies in development psychology at Columbia University in New York City.

Their son, Daniel, A.B. ’01, studied political science and American culture studies at Washington U. before earning his master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Dan’s résumé already includes work at ABC News, Current TV, and, more recently, for the Obama presidential campaign in media development.

“The academics have become even more rigorous since our student days,” notes Beckmann, “but both Katie and Dan were encouraged to balance their studies with experiences outside the classroom. Washington University has been a springboard to success for all four of us, and we’re proud to support it.”

Lisa Cary is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.