ARLINGTON, VA. — Ron Yocum stepped down Jan. 8 as head of the American Plastics Council, and the group's leaders say they want another industry official like him to head the trade association.
Yocum oversaw APC during a contentious time, guiding the group successfully through expanding its mission to a full-service trade group and bringing back resin industry members that had left. But his three-year tenure also was marked by worsening relations and failed merger talks with the industry's other big trade group, the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
APC Chairman Jeff Lipton, president and chief executive officer at Nova Chemicals Corp. in Calgary, Alberta, said APC leaders want to find someone from within the plastics industry to take over, rather than a Washington lobbyist.
"We are clear in that the organization wants to put our first attempt at finding someone with industry experience," Lipton said.
No names of potential replacements have surfaced yet, and Yocum said he will remain in the position until a successor is found. Yocum could have kept the position if he wanted, according to Gerry Finn, Nova's vice president of government and industry relations.
The 61-year-old Yocum said he is stepping down to spend more time with his family and because his weekend commutes to his Michigan home from APC's offices in Arlington, outside Washington, were becoming draining.
He said he "enjoys the job tremendously" and it was a difficult decision, but he wants to step down because he is in good health and wants to slow down a bit.
"We'd all like to think we'll live forever," he said.
Lipton said Yocum was able to "provide a very significant increase in services in a much more productive way than in the past." Yocum also convinced some former APC members to rejoin the organization, getting "every significant resin producer" into the trade group, Lipton said.
Atofina Petrochemicals Inc. of Houston rejoined, and the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP joint venture will become part of APC. Phillips Petroleum Co. previously had dropped out of APC.
Yocum, who had been president and CEO of Millennium Petrochemicals Inc. and APC chairman before taking the top staff job, understood financial pressures facing member companies, Lipton said.
"The fact that they knew at one time I was writing those checks brought some credibility," Yocum said.
APC's 24 member companies pay for the group's core budget of $41.6 million. Since APC's budget has held flat for Yocum's three-year tenure, getting other resin companies to join reduces dues for the rest of the members.
A little more than half of that money, about $22 million, goes to APC's national advertising campaign. That spending also has held steady, but Lipton said APC has found ways to make its ad spending more effective.
The group now focuses advertising on maintaining support among the core audience of plastics supporters — younger women and middle-aged men — and has been able to keep plastics' favorability ratings at good levels with less advertising, Yocum said.
Advertising costs have risen much more than inflation in recent years, so holding spending steady greatly reduced actual time on the air, Yocum said.
"It has been a real struggle for us," he said.
While officials praised Yocum for management strength, his tenure also saw merger talks with SPI fail and relations degenerate into a feud. The groups severed some long-standing ties and many large resin companies left SPI, pulling many of SPI's business units over to APC.
Yocum said he regretted then that APC and SPI could not merge and said both trade associations still are struggling to repair the damage.
"There was a lot of bad will built up in that short six-month period," he said.
Some SPI members from processor and machinery companies were angered by what they perceived as APC's power grab in the negotiations. But APC officials hotly disputed that characterization, arguing that they needed to protect the sizable financial investments that resin companies made in the trade groups.
In a Jan. 11 interview in his office, Yocum continued to defend APC's past merger proposals. Yocum added that he talks regularly now with SPI President Don Duncan, and the two are searching for ways to foster better cooperation.
"We want something meaningful — we don't want window dressing," he said. "We are talking about very general areas, about ways we can work together."
Yocum said he no longer thinks the two groups should merge. Rather, they should focus on building a strong alliance.
He said the chief threat the industry faces — concerns about people's health being damaged by plastics and other chemicals — is best fought by resin companies. Those companies have the resources to mount complex fights on those issues, he said.
Processors' top challenges, like worker training, are not issues that resin companies want APC to take on, Yocum said.
But he said it is vital for the industry to remain united because the public looks at all plastics together and does not distinguish between challenges to PVC and other plastics, for example.
Former SPI Chairman Pat Jack, who pulled his company, Aristech Chemical Corp., out of APC after merger talks fell apart, said resin companies wanted to eliminate duplicate services in trade groups.
While much of that overlap was eliminated, Jack said he would have preferred a merger. In one of the remaining areas where they do overlap — Food and Drug Administration work — there has been some confusion among regulators and the press, Jack said.
Yocum was paid $480,000 in salary and $241,000 in benefits and deferred compensation in the fiscal year ended May 31, 1999. Updated information was not available at press time.