Ken Vickers was remembered by colleagues and competitors alike as a helpful, cheerful man who advanced the window-film industry on national and international levels.
Vickers was 80 when he died May 7 at his home in Martinsville. A native of England whose enthusiastic jokes always were delivered in his strong British accent, he was president of Courtaulds Film – formerly Martin Processing, later CPFilms in Fieldale from 1993 to 2006, then president emeritus for two years after.
That plant briefly was Solutia and since 2012 has been Eastman Chemical Co., which employees 700. “This facility is now one of the largest and most integrated window and performance-coated film manufacturing sites in the world,” the MHC Economic Development Corporation said on its website.
Eastman’s Fieldale operations dyes base film and ultraviolet weatherable films, evaporation metallizes, sputter coats, provides sophisticated protecting top coating and laminates multiple combination layers of components, the company’s website said.
Vickers “was our industry’s greatest product ally, and he lobbied for positive legislation and regulatory initiatives,” said Jim Ford of Florida, the international sales manager for Madico.
“He directed various energy-management studies … showing the benefits of window film in reducing energy demand in windows.”
Ford met Vickers in 2010 at a conference of the European Window Film Association in Madrid, he said “But I had heard his name for many years before then as a competitor. Everyone who came of age in the window film industry knew the name Ken Vickers. He definitely set a high standard.”
Vickers also was instrumental in the LEED certification program, Ford said. That is a third-party, green-building certification program.
“As an industry, we can say, ‘Wow, had it not been for Ken Vickers, a lot of that would not have happened,’” Ford said.
Although Vickers was a legend in the field, in person “he was like an instant friend, and he was that way to everyone,” Ford said.
Arthur Bowyer of England served on the board of Courtaulds and CPFilms when Vickers was its president. Bowyer would come to Martinsville every two or three months for meetings, he said.
The pair met in England around 1990, he said, and have worked together on sites around the world, including in China and Lithuania.
The traveling conditions could be quite difficult during those times, he said, but Vickers plowed on through.
“In Lithuania, Russians would cut off energy supplies to the city,” he said. That made for some viciously cold days and nights in hotels – however, “there was always vodka.”
Vickers “was a big player when he came to CPFilms in Martinsville,” Bowyer said. “That was the biggest in the industry at that time.”
He also recalled Vickers’ sense of humor.
“Ken was a Yorkshire man, very lively, very fun to be with: the sort of man that would work extremely hard during the day, then when the business was over,” ready for a good time, Bowyer said.
As a manager, “Ken was very hardworking, very dynamic, a really good boss,” he said. “He’d say some outrageous things just to get you to do things,” and he was as loyal to his employees as they were to him.
'He was the best'
Before coming to Martinsville, Vickers worked in France, where he made the news many times, a collection of newspaper clippings kept by his family shows.
Rita Phillips said she has been “through a lot of CEOs” in the 33 years she has worked at the plant, and “he was the best. He’s one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met.”
As Vickers made his round through the plant, he was friendly with everyone, she said.
“He knew everyone’s names. He knew the kids’ names. You could just tell that he cared about everybody by the way that he carried himself, the way that he acted. The success of the plant and the morale was so high when he was there.”
Even throughout his retirement, “you would see him out and he would always call you by name and give you a hug. He was jut great, decent, dignified … I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of him come through the plant gates again.”
Virginia Kubler was the director of window films at CPFilms and had worked there from 1988 to 2008.
Vickers “really tried to grow the company, as opposed to nickel-and-dime everything,” she said. “He really invested the company resources” for its betterment, and “the company did enjoy tremendous growth under him.”
Vickers “had tremendous respect for everybody, and I mean everybody,” she said. “Ken could tell you every person’s name in that factory and what they did.” He created the sort of workplace “where people wanted to do good things.”
In 2005, Vickers was awarded the MHC Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassador Award, given to companies or individuals who go above and beyond in hosting new economic development projects.
Dr. Mervyn King said and Vickers had become friends over the past year or so. They often would meet over meals at Hugo’s.
“He was a very friendly and very interesting fellow,” King said. “He was a very nice guy to talk with and a very excellent manager as far as his businesses were concerned. … He believed in splitting his income with them [employees], if they made good money and they did well.”
If pandemic restrictions are lifted by then, on June 27 at 2 p.m. a celebration of life service for Vickers will be at the former Henry County courthouse.
Vickers “helped grow the window film industry to what it is today,” Ford said. “he was an inspiration and a friend to many in the industry. Even competitors looked to him for guidance.”