PITTSBURGH — Vince Witherup long has carried the torch for the U.S. plastics industry around the world. Last week some of that light was reflected back onto him, as the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. named him as its International Business Person of the Year. Witherup, vice president of international marketing and sales for Franklin, Pa.-based auxiliary equipment maker Conair Group Inc., earned the honor for his three decades of efforts on behalf of Conair, SPI and the industry at large.
"Vince's dedication to SPI international activities has been phenomenal," noted Lori Anderson, director of economic and international trade issues for the Washington-based trade association. "He plays the part of ambassador to the industry really well."
A surprised Witherup accepted the award April 25 from Tim Stojka, outgoing chairman of SPI's 135-member International Trade Advisory Committee, at ITAC's spring meeting in Pittsburgh, near Conair's headquarters. Witherup is the third person to win the honor, first awarded in 1998 to Jim Meinert, international marketing director of Snider Mold Co. Inc. of Mequon, Wis., and last year to Gordon Lankton, president of injection molder Nypro Inc. in Clinton, Mass.
Witherup, 58, joined Conair as a consultant in his native Franklin in 1967. He did his first international trip for the firm the following year and was instrumental in establishing U.S.-based joint ventures for Conair with German and Japanese partners in 1974 and 1985, respectively. He has directed Conair's export activities since the mid-1970s, and rose to his current post in 1990. He also has participated in SPI trade missions to China, India and South America. He is active in the association's Machinery Division and is chairman of the upcoming NPE 2000 trade show. In addition, he was a founding member of ITAC and currently serves on its executive board.
Witherup credits Conair founder John Reib for being a visionary in the realm of international business.
"I learned from him, and he let me do what I wanted to do," Witherup recalled in an April 28 telephone interview.
Regarding current attitudes toward international business in the U.S. plastics industry, Witherup said: "People today are more willing to travel and to export, but that doesn't have anything to do with a broadening of their minds. [Travel and communication are] just a lot easier now.
"The problem with many U.S. companies is they are real short-term-goal-oriented." He noted that some plastics firms don't even want to venture to neighboring Mexico or Canada, largely because they have always found enough business at home.
"But," Witherup said, "that won't always be the case. In the future, if you're not a global player, you'll be out of business, for the most part.
Witherup believes SPI has a key role to play in helping to educate members and demonstrate that conducting business internationally really isn't that difficult.
And the hot future markets for plastics in his view?
"That's easy. Looking forward 10-15 years, the two places that will make a difference are the two with the most people — China and India."
Separately, ITAC's executive board named its new leaders at the April 25-26 Pittsburgh meeting. Jim Buonomo, corporate director of international business development for Nypro Inc., and chairman of the company's Chinese operations, will take over as ITAC's chairman.
Bill Talbot, international sales manager for Xaloy Inc., a Pulaski, Va.-based manufacturer of screws and barrels, was named ITAC's new vice chairman.