When he got into sales 20 years ago, David Harper wanted to meet people, so he joined the Society of Plastics Engineers' Tennessee Valley Section. It turned out to be a good strategy. Harper mingled with dozens of folks around Nashville, Tenn. Today, as manager of Bayer Corp.'s large southern region, his territory has grown. Now, as the new SPE president, so has his circle of friends.
Harper became president of the 37,000-member society during SPE's Annual Technical Conference in Boston, eight years after joining the executive committee.
``I view my volunteer work to-day as a payback for the people I met from [SPE] sections all over the country,'' he said.
Harper, 54, wants to help SPE realize its long-term goals under Leadership 2000. The plan spells out how SPE can meet three major goals: to be the leading plastics technical society, to be the preferred supplier of engineering, scientific and business knowledge, and have a firm financial base through 2010.
Leadership 2000 gives a single vision to a very diverse organization, Harper said.
``Now we have this tool to align our priorities, so we're all going in the same direction,'' he said.
As an executive committee member, Harper also will lead a public relations campaign to major manufacturers on the benefits of having their employees as SPE members.
``Our marketing effort has been about features, but not benefits. So we're going to talk about how it benefits you to be a member and how it makes your employees grow,'' he said.
SPE leaders also want to change how plastics companies exchange knowledge. In Boston, SPE unveiled its first online electronic database. When the database is completed this year, users will be able to retrieve abstracts and full texts of articles from publications, including Journal of Vinyl Technology, Journal of Vinyl & Additive Technology, Polymer Composites, Polymer Engineering & Science and Polymer Processing & Rheology.
SPE also is working on a program to certify ``plastics technologists'' by measuring industrial skills. The certification program is expected to begin in 1996.
When Harper graduated from
Nashville's Draughons College in 1960, the plastics industry was not quite so official. Andy Ewing, a college professor, got him a job at Kusan Corp. in Nashville where Ewing was engineering man-ager. Kusan was a major force in plastic toys, automotive parts and construction products.
Harper worked in the estimating, design and tool engineering departments. He backed into technical sales when a salesman became ill.
``The vice president of sales asked me, would I consider a sales job. So that's how I got into sales,'' Harper said. ``Once I got in it, they haven't been able to get me out of it.'' He still keeps in touch with Ewing.
In 1978, he became a sales representative for Mobay Corp. (The company has since been renamed twice, to Miles Inc. and this past April, to Bayer Corp.)
He was promoted to southern regional sales manager in 1981. Today, he manages the entire region, overseeing sales, marketing and technical resources.
Harper has served in nearly every position in SPE, which is based in Brookfield, Conn. Like many other presidents, Harper is donating his vacation time to SPE work this year.
``It's something we do because, hey, we all have jobs to run,'' he said. Bayer also supports his SPE work.
Harper was raised in Russellville, Ky., a small town near the Tennessee border. He still favors country living. He and his wife, Carol, live in a log home in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains east of Nashville.