Ronald Yocum isn't a career Washingtonian. But perhaps that's precisely the kind of leadership the American Plastics Council needs today.
Yocum was tapped Dec. 9 to serve as president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based trade group.
His predecessors at APC — Red Cavaney, and before him Donald Shea — were pretty much career inside-the-beltway guys. Nothing wrong with that. Knowing your way around Capitol Hill and the regulatory agencies can do a lot of good for the plastics industry, or, at least, help prevent a lot of harm.
Yocum, on the other hand, is a plastics industry insider. He's coming from Millennium Petrochemicals, the former Quantum Chemical Co., where he was president and CEO. Prior to that, he'd held a string of management jobs at plastics resin supplier firms.
That experience, or rather the lack of a trade-association background, could pave the way for a stronger plastics industry voice in Washington and the 50 states.
The now-stalled merger discussions between APC and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. revealed a disturbing rift between members of the two Washington-based groups. At one point, a distinguished group of former SPI board members wrote a letter urging SPI to reject a merger unless APC agreed to take a proper place, under the SPI banner.
APC leaders responded that its resin company members had no intention of taking control of the broader-based SPI. But the issue persisted: One sticking point in the negotiations was deciding who would head the proposed combined group. A faction within SPI seems set on designating SPI President Larry Thomas as leader of the merged associations.
Yocum, who is 58, isn't ready for retirement. But he made it clear that SPI and APC should merge, and he will not stand in the way. That's one of the best parts about his selection as CEO — he's not out to protect his own job, or to maintain the association in the face of common-sense reasons to abolish it.
The merger path still may be a long, bumpy road. We've pointed out before that the interests of APC and SPI member companies don't always converge. But SPI's processor members nevertheless are affected by APC's work and want to be involved in its projects. Plastics News conducted a fax poll of North American processor executives in December, and 87.5 percent of the 274 respondents to that question said they thought the two groups should merge.
APC and SPI are not adversaries. In fact, they should be commended for their cooperation efforts. But Yocum should be prepared to bring the groups closer together, with a goal of eventual merger.