The Plastics Blog
By Don Loepp | About The Plastics Blog

My thoughts on Jerry Heckman

By Don Loepp | January 22, 2013 03:37 pm ET

Jerry Heckman has been a key leader in the plastics industry for nearly 60 years -- quite an accomplishment for someone who, as his Plastics Hall of Fame profile notes, "never invented a plastic product or application."

The truth is that Jerry was a lawyer -- an extraordinary lawyer, to be sure. But he identified with and embraced the plastics industry, and all the people and companies out there creating new products and applications. And he did so with tremendous enthusiasm.

Jerry died yesterday -- Jan. 21 -- at age 85. I've been getting emails and calls about him today, and I thought it would be nice to share some of those, as well as my own recollections.

(Also, make sure to check out the obituary that I wrote for PlasticsNews.com, "Lawyer Heckman, 85, remembered for influence.")

Heckman's relationship with the plastics industry dates back to 1954, when he was just a year out of Georgetown law school and he met Bill Cruse, known as "Mr. Plastics," who was then the first first full-time CEO for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.

Of course my own relationship with Jerry doesn't go back nearly that long. I started at Plastics News in 1991, and he was one of the first people I met who was part of the plastics industry. I visited Washington to say hello to all the trade association bigwigs -- it was my first trip for PN.

Adam Lashinsky, then our Washington bureau chief (and now an award-winning writer for Fortune magazine) arranged for a sit-down with Jerry.

By that point Jerry was already in the Plastics Hall of Fame, and he knew all the major players in the industry. Jerry surprised me right away when he talked candidly about the personalities who were leading the industry's key companies and trade associations. I remember walking out the door of Jerry's office and sharing a smile with Adam, who made some sort of remark about how great it was to talk with Jerry.

Jerry started to call me regularly when I began to write most of the newspaper's weekly editorial columns -- and when I was promoted to news editor, and then managing editor.

One of the great things about our talks was that Jerry offered historical perspective on just about any issue. Do you think plastic product bans are a new phenomenon? Jerry had been dealing with them since the 1950s. Chemical safety? He was recognized internationally as an expert.

Jerry was skilled at recognizing coverage that he liked in PN and drawing attention to it -- he wrote many columns over the years praising our coverage. When he liked one of my columns, he compared me favorably to Bill Cruse himself -- real praise, coming from Jerry. I never forgot.

But he didn't like everything, though. Jerry made it clear to me when he didn't like a story, or an editorial, or even one of our reporters. I imagine that he treated others in the industry the same way. It didn't bother me though. Perhaps it was the way he offered criticism, which most of the time seemed fair. Jerry understood how newspapers worked -- a point he repeated more than once.

A while back, when SPI and the American Plastics Council were feuding over a variety of issues, Jerry tried to help mend fences. It took years for that situation to improve, but I'm sure he took some comfort in the fact that the industry is more united today than it has been in at least 20 years.

The law firm he helped co-found, Keller and Heckman, said today in a statement: "Mr. Heckman will be well-remembered by all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with him."

Bill Carteaux, the current president and CEO of SPI, added: "Jerry Heckman had a tremendous impact on the plastics industry, and he will be remembered as one of the most influential people our industry has ever known. His work with resin manufacturers, processors, regulatory agencies and legislators is responsible for much of the growth that several sectors of our industry have enjoyed over the last 50 years."

I got an email from a long-time industry contact today who wrote, "I don't think it's too hyperbolic to describe Jerry Heckman as an 'industry giant.'"

All good points.

Let's leave the last word for that Hall of Fame profile -- the one that noted that Heckman never invented a plastic product or application.

The rest of the sentence really sums it up: "... he has certainly been as creative as any inventor in his work in building and maintaining a business environment that has permitted the stupendous growth achieved by the industry."


Recent Blog Posts

Does this all-plastic trumpet sound 'as good' as brass?   September 23, 2014 10:54 am ET
Sometimes the headline doesn't match the story   September 22, 2014 2:56 pm ET
Here's a peek behind our 2014 film & sheet ranking   September 15, 2014 1:22 pm ET
Weighing in on top plastics personalities   September 8, 2014 5:12 pm ET
How's the media treating plastics these days?   August 27, 2014 10:49 am ET
A peek behind our 2014 ranking of rotational molders   August 25, 2014 2:00 pm ET

Comments

My thoughts on Jerry Heckman

By Don Loepp

Published: January 22, 2013 3:37 pm ET
Updated: January 22, 2013 4:35 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story

Market Reports

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 million dollar plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our industry analysis highlights macro industry trends and micro trends faced by companies that do business in Mexico. The report also provides key industry statistics and forecasts to anticipate future industry expansion.

Learn more

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Injection Molders Market Report & Ranking 2014

This special package contains our 132-page 2014 Market Report on the Injection Molding segment and our exclusive 2014 RANKINGS database of 500+ Injection Molders for a discounted package price.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events