It's love, pure and simple. For the entrepreneurs who built the plastics processing industry over the past 30 years, their companies represent more than buildings and equipment, more even than profits.
Their companies have become living, breathing entities with which they've had lifelong love affairs.
That's why it's so tough to let go, to walk away and let someone else run the show. These owners - almost all of them men - lose a big chunk of their personal identity to their companies.
Their names have become synonymous with their companies' names.
I've had a chance to interview many of them over the past six years and it's obvious they are men in love. But sometimes love is blind.
Love often blinds these men to the fact that change is as much a necessary part of busi-ness as it is life. No one can do business the way they did 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago. Management consultants working with these men say the one song they hear most often is ``But I've always done it this way!'' But the world has changed. Manufacturing technology has changed. Yet, some of these men refuse to change along with it.
Their affection sometimes even extends to their molding machinery. One company provides a place of honor - a Plexiglas-encased pedestal - for the first molding press the company's founder and owner ever bought. The press even has a name - Penelope.
Love for their company can blind these men to the fact that growth is also a crucial component to a strong, competitive business. One owner I know decided to stop expanding his company - to try to keep it on its current plateau until he's no longer around.
In theory that sounds OK, but, in fact, business does not stand still. It must grow, either in sales volume, capabilities offered or in some measurable way. If it doesn't, it slowly dies.
Love is a good thing. Certainly these men had to love this industry and their companies to stay with it so long, to fight so hard to make it go.
But at some point, many have had to learn to let go of the companies they built. The most successful of these men that I know are the ones who sold their businesses, walked away and never looked back. Many of them continue in the plastics industry as consultants, teachers or volunteers.
Probably the best thing these men can do is quit trying to find someone to replace them. As one owner told me, that's ``near impossible.'' They might find someone with the technical expertise, the college background or the experience. But can they find someone with the pure, unconditional love? Not likely.
Goldsberry is a Plastics News correspondent based in Phoenix.