It's that time again, when Plastics News looks back at the stranger side of the news and unveils its annual Plastic Globe Awards.
THANKS, YOU'RE OUTTA HERE AWARD: To Scott Greer, president of United Technologies Automotive, for his means of showing appreciation. When Ed Northern, former president of UT Automotive's Interiors Division, abruptly ``resigned'' in late January, after drastically reshaping the injection molding giant, Greer said: ``Ed was a great agent for change, and we owe him a great deal of gratitude. The company needed change, but it was way too quick, and we lost control.''
THANKS, I'M OUTTA HERE AWARD: To Bill Carteaux, former president of vertical injection press manufacturer Autojectors Inc. Carteaux secured his future by selling his company to Cincinnati Milacron Inc., then bolted to rival press maker Van Dorn Demag Inc., to the dismay of Milacron officials.
THE MAN DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH AWARD: To Michael F. Price, president of Franklin Mutual Series Fund Inc., which owned more than 15 percent of Sunbeam Corp. stock. Price vehemently assailed a June 8 Fortune magazine story: ``The article completely mischaracterizes my views on Sunbeam and Al Dunlap. We have been — and remain — completely supportive of Al Dunlap, and the Fortune reporter missed that essential message in trying to convey the erroneous impression that we are not supportive of Al and Sunbeam. She cannot possibly have been listening to anything I said to have come away with the false impression that we want to replace Al Dunlap.'' On June 15, the Sunbeam board terminated Chairman/Chief Executive Officer Dunlap in a move that, according to the Wall Street Journal, Michael Price ``helped orchestrate.''
I'VE SEEN FIRE AND I'VE SEEN RAIN AWARD: To Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc., whose Junction, Texas, plant shut down briefly due to flooding from Tropical Storm Charley. Last year, AERT won a Plastic Globe for going a whole 12 months without a fire, after suffering five fires in four years.
OH, NEVER MIND AWARD: To Clariant AG and Ciba Specialty Chemicals AG, which Nov. 9 announced an industry-shaking deal to create a $13 billion global chemicals giant, only to announce quietly Dec. 9 that the deal was off.
OH, NEVER MIND AWARD, PART II: To EVC International NV and Norsk Hydro ASA, which late this year called off their much-ballyhooed PVC merger that would have created the world's third-largest vinyl resin producer.
HERR NINO AWARD: To the Dusseldorf, Germany, weather gods, who managed to make it cold, gray and rainy for 10 straight days at K'98 in late October.
MOST MEMBERS IN GOOD STANDING AWARD: To Greenpeace, for apparently claiming to represent the realm of superheros and childhood icons. The group sent a slew of Santas to drop off PVC toys to European Union Health Commissioner Emma Bonino, shortly before Christmas. Bonino has pushed for immediate bans on phthalates in vinyl toys. In a related caped caper, Batman and Robin scaled scaffolding outside New York's International Toy Fair to hang a ``Play Safe. Don't Buy Vinyl Toys!'' banner.
CROWDED THEATER AWARD: To the clumsy kitchen worker at Houston's J.W. Marriott Hotel who set off a fire alarm during a speech by Greenpeace's Charlie Cray during Flexpo 98 in June. The crowd — which regarded Cray's mere presence with skepticism at best — murmured in amusement while Cray struggled to make his anti-PVC message heard. When told that hotel management blamed the incident on a kitchen worker, a PVC industry executive joked, ``How much are we paying that guy?''
ERNEST ANGLEY FIRE & BRIMSTONE AWARD: To the Vinyl Institute, for turning the debate over vinyl into a jihad. In its zealous condemnation of Greenpeace's persecution of vinyl, VI peppered its proselytizing with adjectives such as ``unholy'' and ``fear-mongering.''
DON'T BOTHER ME WITH THE FACTS AWARD: To the Consumer Product Safety Commission for deciding in December that phthalates do not leach out of PVC toys at levels that harm children, but nonetheless urging the entire industry not to use them. It cited the need to be cautious, but the decision also could make CPSC a finalist in the ``cover your butt'' award.
HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU SLICE THAT PIE? AWARD: To Advanstar Expositions, Traverse Lerew Group Inc. and Modern Plastics magazine, who together have boosted to six the number of major regional plastics trade shows scheduled for the U.S. market in 1999. Perhaps their moves were in response to complaints that three regional shows a year were too many.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS AWARD: To VerticalNet Inc., which on Sept. 4 boldly declared the launch of a new plastics industry business-to-business Web site. Unfortunately, its news release gave the incorrect URL, and its site still offers only an unfulfilled ``Coming soon'' promise, with no commitment to a launch date.
GOING, GOING, GONE AWARD: To injection molder Becker Group Inc. When it formed a joint venture in 1996 with France's Cie. Plastic Omnium Industries Inc., Becker cited the need to expand into new areas. But this April, the automotive supplier dropped out of the partnership, citing the need to concentrate on core businesses. One month later, Johnson Controls Inc. announced it would buy Becker.
BEAUTY OF BUREAUCRACY AWARD: In an effort to trim down, Cambridge Industries Inc. fattened up by creating a new position: executive vice president of continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.
GOOD TO SEE YOU AWARD: To Lear Corp, the massive auto supplier that said in March it would buy the far-reaching seating operations of Delphi Automotive Systems for $250 million. Lear CEO Ken Way said during a news conference that ``we are builders'' for the future. In December, Lear began a teardown, announcing layoffs of 2,800 workers and the closure of 18 plants across all its facilities. Another sign that euphoria is normally short-lived.
THE RUBBER CHICKEN AWARD: To participants sitting through an indigestion-inducing set of dinner speeches during a Canadian auto suppliers conference in April. First, TRW Inc. Chairman Joseph Gorman blasted automakers for their deteriorating ties with suppliers. The next speaker, Chrysler Corp. supplier management director Jonathan Maples, haplessly pulled the plug on his prepared speech (and laptop). Instead, Maples performed a mea culpa, saying that Chrysler had been compared with industrial thugs in the past, but now has developed a healthy atmosphere of trust. Gorman left the meeting room before Maples finished his speech.
SEX SELLS? AWARD: To the National Association for Plastic Container Recovery, whose — are you ready for this? — sexually suggestive television ad prompted protests from Erie County (Pa.) Council members. The ad featured senior citizens commenting about a woman named Mildred who ``does it three times a day.'' The ``it,'' it turns out, was recycling PET bottles. NAPCOR President Luke Schmidt said that, for the most part, the ``light-hearted, fun'' commercial spurred positive feedback.
SEX SELLS? AWARD, PART II: To Ferromatik Milacron, which got the brainstorm that a scantily clad woman might help it sell injection molding machines. Visitors to the firm's Web site (www.ferromatik.com) this summer were greeted by a nearly naked female torso that told surfers: ``Find what you're lookin' for. Click here for free stats.'' (Don't go rushing to the site now, the ad has been replaced by another pitching a sweepstakes for free Super Bowl tickets).
SEX SELLS? AWARD, PART III: To Automated Assemblies Corp., a unit of Nypro Inc., whose tacky, tasteless ad featuring a naked man (with a zit on his butt) named ``Dick'' marked a new plastics industry low in ``image'' advertising. FYI, the campaign's ultimate tag line urged auxiliary-equipment buyers not to be like the ad's main character, but rather, to ``... be a Richard.'' Get it? (nudge, nudge).
WELCOME BACK AWARD: To Package Machinery Co.'s West Springfield, Mass.-based Reed Division. The firm, whose well-known injection molding machine brand dates to 1936, resumed making presses this year, after a nine-year hiatus.
SEE THE LIGHT AWARD: To Chicago's McCormick Place unions for finally conceding that they'd rather implement more-competitive workplace practices than lose convention after convention to more exhibitor-friendly venues.
BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? AWARD: To Dennis N. Caulfield, former chairman and CEO of bag maker BPI Packaging Technologies Inc., who resigned July 1, one day after failing to meet a deadline to pay back a $36,000 company loan. Government records also showed Caulfield owed BPI $586,978 from other loans.
BROTHER, I CAN SPARE A DIME AWARD: To Vic De Zen, head of Toronto's Royal Group Technologies Ltd., who topped Plastics News' 1998 highest-paid plastics executives list, pulling in total 1997 compensation of $15.9 million.
PYRRHIC VICTORY AWARD: To Convent, La., which — owing largely to the vocal intervention of environmental groups and the Congressional Black Caucus — forced resin producer Shintech Inc. to scale back its planned new PVC manufacturing complex in Convent to $250 million from $700 million, and then to move it down the road in Louisiana, taking with it any jobs that would have been created in the economically depressed area.
LAST ONE OUT, TURN OFF THE LIGHTS AWARD: To Phillips Petroleum Co., which in September announced it was quitting the plastics recycling business, making it the last of several major virgin-resin producers over the past few years to bail out of recycling.
DON'T (MILLENNIUM) BUG ME! AWARD: To those industry suppliers issuing a flood of press releases asserting that their computer systems are Year 2000-compliant. As 1999 begins, it promises to rival our truckloads of ISO-9000 certification announcements.
HOGAN'S HEROES STUPID-NAZI AWARD: To the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division for a funny but fairly tasteless stab at comedy during its awards night in November. A man purporting to be a group vice president for Daimler-Benz AG told the gathering, in a mannered German accent, that the merger with Chrysler Corp. would mean the loss of jobs for U.S. suppliers and that workers would be forced to drink German beer on coffee breaks. He said Germans' favorite movie is ``Saving Private Ryan,'' but they like to run it backward so it has a happy ending.
STAN GAULT UNRETIREMENT AWARD: To M.A. Hanna Co.'s Martin Walker, who retired as chairman and CEO in June 1997 — only to return last October to succeed the man who succeeded him, Doug McGregor.
DEEP THROAT AWARD: To Japan Chemical Week, which reported a few months back that Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. plans to sell its Pacific Western Extruded Plastics Co. unit — but didn't bother to attribute the news to anyone. PW Pipe President James Rash denied the report, calling the newspaper ``a rumor magazine.'' To date, the firm has not been sold.
DEEPER THROAT AWARD: To Plaspec's online news service, which reported Sept. 23 that HPM Corp. was up for sale. The report claimed HPM officials would not confirm or deny the rumor. To date, the company has not been sold.
TRUTH IN PUBLIC RELATIONS AWARD: To General Electric Corp., which implied to Massachusetts public officials that if the Environmental Protection Agency named a former Pittsfield operation a Superfund site, then GE Plastics could be forced to move its headquarters. Although the threat was widely reported, GE Plastics officials denied considering a move.
WE CAN'T HEAR YOU AWARD: To Exxon, Dow, Mobil, Phillips and other plastics giants involved in metallocene research. In 1998, Exxon was involved in patent fights with each of these three rivals. All this in spite of the fact that some form of the phrase, ``Legal battles are holding metallocenes back from greater commercial success'' has appeared in most of the 3,762 stories Plastics News has written on the promising technology in the past decade.
BAD NEWS FOR UPSCALE RESTAURANT OWNERS AWARD: To the Phillip Townsend Associates Inc. spokesman who, when interviewed for the Plastics News 1998 compounding special report, said plastics processors are more educated than they were in years past and ``aren't giving their business to the guy who buys the best lunch that week anymore.'' The spokesman requested that his name be withheld from the story — obviously fearing retribution from angry waitresses, chefs and busboys at fine restaurants nationwide.
WE'RE JUST LOOKING OUT FOR YOUR SHAREHOLDERS AWARD: To Huntsman Packaging Corp. and AlliedSignal Inc., which made unsolicited offers to Applied Extrusion Technologies Inc. and AMP Inc., respectively. In both cases, managers at the target firms claimed the premium offers weren't in the best interest of stockholders.
LANA TURNER SCHWAB'S DRUG STORE AWARD: To Betty Lockner, a worker at Freshway Market in Akron, Ohio, who Plastics News pictured stocking Reiter Milk Chugs. Lockner later became an international film star — OK, not really — when the photo ran in International Plastics News in China, a monthly magazine.