WASHINGTON — The American Plastics Council tapped an untraditional candidate as its new president and chief executive officer — Ronald Yocum, the president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Millennium Petrochemicals.
Yocum, currently chairman of Washington-based APC, lacks the political acumen of his predecessor at APC, Red Cavaney. But Yocum brings a long-standing involvement with the group and a broad industry background.
The Dec. 9 announcement was a surprise to some observers. The move could make it easier for APC eventually to complete now-dormant merger talks with the other major Washington-based trade group, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
``You could speculate on that, and I think that speculation is right,'' said a resin company official who works closely with APC. Yocum is not a trade association professional and does not bring a personal agenda to any talks, the official said.
Yocum has said the groups should merge, and that he would step down if he were the stumbling block to a merger.
Yocum said changes within APC and at his current job at Millennium led to his decision.
Cavaney's departure for the much-larger American Petroleum Institute in September opened up the APC job. Millennium recently merged its ethylene, propylene and polyethylene business with Lyondell Petrochemicals, but Yocum's company—the smaller partner—owns only a 43 percent stake in the joint venture. Though Yocum said he was a offered a ``very good job'' at Millennium, he wants to focus on plastics.
Initially not a candidate for the APC post, Yocum, 58, said he was surprised to find out during a meeting with other APC leaders in mid-November that they wanted him to take the job. APC leaders, including Yocum, had interviewed three unidentified candidates but did not offer the position to any of them.
``It was at that meeting where suddenly I was asked to leave the meeting,'' Yocum said. ``I came back about 40 minutes or an hour later. The group said, `We talked this through and the more we think about it, we'd really like you to consider this.'''
Yocum said he talked about his lack of a trade association background with Cavaney, who played a key role in identifying replacement candidates. That helped convince Yocum he was right for the job.
``I think not having trade association experience, there are positives and negatives to that,'' he said. ``On the positive side, I know the industry and have personal relationships with CEOs of the companies.
``What I need to learn is how Washington works and how the trade association works,'' Yocum said. ``I bring some strengths and some weaknesses. I'm comfortable with the help of Rod [Lowman, APC's vice president for government affairs] and others I'll be able to do that.''
Yocum offered few remarks on what direction he would take APC, saying he needs to spend time learning.
But, he noted, it is unlikely the group's budget-cutting will continue. The pro-plastics advertising campaign, about 50 percent of APC's $37.8 million yearly spending, may need even more money, Yocum said.
``From the data I have now, it would suggest it would be dangerous to reduce it below where it is today,'' he said. ``It may have to increase slightly.''
APC has trimmed spending 10 percent a year for several years, but he noted member firms are not looking to make more cuts.
During his initial tenure, beginning March 1, he plans to work on implementing APC's management reorganization to teams that focus on end markets, he said.
Yocum does not see any significant threats to plastics that would require APC to change course, but he mentioned that recycling will remain an issue.
``My opinion right now is that things appear to be in pretty good shape but I don't for a moment think that those who don't believe in plastics have gone away. They will be back.''
Yocum had been actively involved with APC and its forerunner groups, including participating on the committee that formed it. He became president and CEO of Millennium's predecessor, Quantum Chemical Co., in 1993. Before that, he held management positions with Quantum, Enron Chemical Co. and Dow Chemical Co.
APC said Yocum's appointment must be approved by its board in January. APC Vice Chairman John Peppercorn, president of Chevron Chemical Co., will become the next chairman.