Ron Yocum's accomplishments as president of the American Plastics Council unfortunately will be eclipsed by the trade group's rocky relationship with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. early in his tenure.
APC/SPI relations are on the right track now, and Yocum deserves some credit for the recent improvement. But he'll be remembered for leading APC during its darkest hour.
It will be up to Yocum's successor to build on the more recent record.
If APC chooses well, it could put the groups back on course for eventual unification, which is still a worthwhile goal.
Yocum announced Jan. 8 he will step down as APC's president. He has offered to remain until a replacement is found.
He was picked to lead APC in December 1997, just a few months after APC and SPI called off their first serious round of merger talks.
At the time, the sticking point involved leadership issues. If the groups merged, who would be president? Some SPI leaders wanted to keep their president, Larry Thomas. Others wanted to make sure a president of the combined groups would represent the interests of the entire industry, including processors and machinery suppliers.
At the time, Yocum's selection seemed to solve that problem. He favored a merger and made it clear that he would not insist on leading the united groups. He came from a resin supplier background, but he had contacts and friends among the processor community.
A year later, merger talks restarted. But SPI officials soon discovered that the problem wasn't just Thomas. It was a question of power. APC insisted on 50 percent of the voting power on hiring and firing the president and some other key decisions. The negotiations quickly collapsed.
A period of ill will and competition followed. Long-time SPI members defected, as well as some well-known business groups. SPI and APC tangled over issues as important as who was responsible for dealing with Food and Drug Administration regulators and as silly as office access in the headquarters building. APC eventually left the building it had shared with SPI in Washington, moving to Arlington, Va.
APC and SPI both were at fault — APC for the ridiculous power grab and refusal to budge from its position and SPI for the way it reacted to the snub. The two sides finally began to mend fences a year ago, after Thomas stepped down. By all accounts, SPI and APC now enjoy a civil relationship.
How much blame does Yocum deserve for the mess early in his APC career? No more than Thomas, certainly. Perhaps less. Some insiders blame members of the APC board, who did not appreciate the role of processors and machinery companies in the plastics industry.
Unfortunately, the industry lacked a champion who could bring the two sides together and broker a compromise. APC now has an opportunity to find a leader who can cement a more successful legacy than simply managing a trade group with a big budget and a strong advertising strategy.