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Sabic's Keith Smith brings big expectations to NPE2012

By: Frank Esposito

April 1, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (April 1, 8:45 a.m. ET) — Keith Smith has been at his new job for less than six months, but he already likes what he sees at Sabic Innovative Plastics.

“This is an industry that I’ve been in for quite a while, and one that I absolutely love,” Smith said in a recent phone interview. “Over the years, I knew that Sabic and GE Plastics had a unique portfolio, and that was something I admired. I also admired their people, and the time I’ve been here has reinforced that.”

At NPE2012, Sabic (Booth 29000) is taking an aggressive approach to a show Smith described as “a huge opportunity.”

“NPE is the largest plastics show in North America, and as a committed leader in the industry, we’re going to show and show big,” he said of the exhibition in Orlando, Fla.

Smith may be new to Pittsfield, Mass.-based Sabic IP, but he’s no stranger to the world of plastics. Before becoming the firm’s executive vice president Dec. 1, he spent more than 30 years with plastics and chemicals leader DuPont Co., most recently serving as the firm’s vice president for sourcing and logistics.

While at Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont, Smith ran businesses that competed with Sabic in some areas, but he said there wasn’t a lot of overlap between DuPont’s crystalline materials and Sabic’s mostly amorphous ones.

“Sabic is clearly a company that’s committed to this industry in many different ways,” Smith said. “But the most important part is people, and that’s driving us to be the employer of choice.”

Sabic ranks as one of the world’s largest producers of polycarbonate, ABS and other engineering resins, such as its Ultem-brand polyetherimide and Noryl- brand polyphenylene oxide/poly­phenylene ether resins.

“We’re still looking to replace metals, glass and other plastics,” Smith said. “Analysts have said that PC and ABS can do 1½ times [gross domestic product] growth annually. There’s a continued value proposition for our materials for a number of reasons, including weight reduction.”

Recent growth for Sabic materials has come from the rebound of the auto sector, both in North America and around the world. Smith said North American auto builds could be up as much as 7 percent this year, creating “multiple substitution opportunities for our products.”

Electronics market growth also has helped Sabic recently, in products such as appliances and flat-screen TVs. But Smith pointed out that the electronics market is “a bit more volatile than some others, with higher highs and lower lows.”

The 1½ times GDP multiple works out to about 5 percent for both PC and ABS. Analysts have said those numbers will be lower in North America, but Smith added that Sabic’s expectations “are higher than that.”

A recently opened pilot plant in Mount Vernon, Ind., will allow Sabic to “tweak the backbone” of Ultem-type products, Smith said. The company had done previous work to explore PC.

Sabic also is opening a compounding plant in western China and recently signed a joint venture agreement with Chinese state-owned petrochemicals firm Sinopec to open a new PC plant there in 2015. Sabic also recently opened innovation centers in China and India and is adding to its product portfolio with materials like acrylic resin and carbon fiber.

“Our top priority is to continue to drive actionable commitments that people are going to see from Sabic in the industry,” Smith said. “We’re not just saying we’re committed — we’re showing it with actions.”