In the late 1990s, it was the plastics industry equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle.
Industry executives were leaving good careers with established companies — remember, this was the late 1990s, when the economy was as overheated as Bill Clinton's libido — to join the new Internet crusade.
Those crusaders cannot be faulted for believing in the cause. Like one of those computer pop-up ads that never seems to go away, the Internet buzz was everywhere.
Buy online or else your competition will, said the messengers. The Internet is the new industrial revolution, proclaimed the zealots. The computer will replace the telephone and fax machine and tee times on the golf course and notes on the backs of paper napkins as the preferred means to purchase resin or parts or exchange information or secure contracts.
So the plastics executives decided to take the risk and join a start-up Internet company with a promising future. The promise of a larger bankroll, coming from stock options when that company went public, didn't hurt matters either.
Or so the story went. After all, every business magazine in America was trumpeting high-tech stocks and new Internet millionaires with all the glamour of movie stars in the golden age of Hollywood.
But something happened on the way to the bank for most of those executives. Either their Web dream started too late or was ahead of its time. Either way, it ended too soon.
Many of them soon found themselves out of work, underemployed or back at the old position they had left to become new-age entrepreneurs. Jeff Bezos they were not.
In truth, most of the business-to-business sites, especially those in manufacturing, have not had the success of the earlier consumer models, such as Bezos' Amazon.com. In the plastics industry, the economy has been only part of the problem.
Even if the stock market had not tanked, those sites could not have been sustained, several former dot-com mavericks told Plastics News. Processors were wary of throwing out the purchasing or design methods they had used for generations and starting anew.
But some plastics executives swallowed the hype. You can call it greed or you can call it vision. But the fact is, a lot of them simply wanted to better themselves and be part of a ground-floor opportunity.
Yet, they soon found that basic business fundamentals mattered. Virtually all those Web companies were a long way from seeing the light of profitability when the cash dried up. The expected monetary rewards never materialized, and those companies soon found that it cost more to build a site than at first realized.
It's good to dream, and many of us are told in business that risk-taking is rewarded. Unfortunately, those dreams sometimes turn to dust rather than sawbucks. The lightning that is the Internet can knock down trees and power lines, too.
Pryweller is an Akron, Ohio-based senior reporter for Plastics News. His beats includes e-business.