ARLINGTON, VA.—A divided Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. board agreed May 20 to consider leadership questions early in its merger discussions with the American Plastics Council, clearing a hurdle that will allow the talks to proceed quickly, SPI officials said.
APC negotiators wanted leadership questions to be considered early, but ``our initial hope from the SPI standpoint was that the leadership issue would be an issue for later,'' said Harry Ussery, SPI's vice chairman, and president of Beacon Plastics Inc. in Greenville, S.C. SPI wanted to deal with the leadership question once the merger task force determines whether the groups should combine, Ussery said.
But the SPI board decided to continue the talks in a vote of about 25-13, according to Ussery.
The board also decided to have that task force develop a process for choosing a leader of any merged group as part of the package of recommendations it makes to the board, said SPI Chairman H. Patrick Jack. Jack is senior vice president of chemicals at Dallas-based Fina Oil and Chemical Co.
``It's hard to evaluate whether at the end the task force will recommend unification,'' Jack said. ``We are optimistic we can continue to work through it and build a package that will be ready to be submitted to both boards for consideration. Part of that package is the process of how the leader of the new organization will be selected,'' he said.
Both Ussery and Jack said the task force will not be choosing a specific leader but rather developing a process that will then be approved by the boards of both Washington-based groups. And both said the SPI board decision does not reflect any problems with current President Larry Thomas. Both men spoke in a joint interview May 21 during SPI's board meeting in Arlington at which the board reaffirmed its full support in the staff and Thomas, Ussery said.
Ussery said the SPI board needed to consider the issue because APC negotiators brought it up when the two sides met for their first and only meeting April 29.
``I think at our first meeting it became obvious that the APC team had some guidance there,'' said Ussery, who is the senior SPI official on the merger task force. ``When the issue arose, we felt our team was working without much guidance. We strongly felt we should get that guidance.''
Jack said SPI leaders decided in January that preserving the group's structure is a high priority but did not address leadership issues.
``Now that we have this direction, we're planning to put this on a fast burner,'' Ussery said, adding that he wants to ``take a lot back'' for discussion at SPI's September board meeting.
Ussery said both groups are performing well and said the task force is not at a point of recommending or excluding either Thomas or APC President and Chief Executive Officer Red Cavaney, or going after a third candidate.
One plan for merging the groups that has attracted support from several former leaders of SPI and a key unit, the Machinery Division, is to bring APC into the fold as a program of SPI.
Jack said that is ``one of many concepts for bringing the APC in.'' But he expressed mixed feelings: ``If the APC were to come in as a special-purpose group within the SPI, you would still have a lot of duplication and inefficiencies.''
It would give APC maximum autonomy but would not create a single voice to represent the industry, a key goal of any merger, he said.
APC and SPI plan a joint statement on the progress of the talks after a June 4 APC board meeting.
``I think you'll find after the APC meeting that there are a number of points of consensus'' Ussery said.
But he said the groups cannot talk about them now.