The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. has a new president-elect, Bill Carteaux of injection press supplier Demag Plastics Group.
Carteaux is only the eighth president in the 68-year history of SPI, the leading U.S. plastics trade group. The current president, Don Duncan, joined Washington-based SPI from DuPont Dow Elastomers LLC in 2000. He will stay through the end of February. Given that this is a rare changing-of-the-guard at SPI, it's worth taking a step back to consider the organization, its new leader, and their future together:
* At age 45, Carteaux is young, intense and passionate about the industry, and he is likely to guide SPI for years.
* The plastics industry is the fourth-largest U.S. manufacturing industry, but in Washington it is a minor player. Plastics often is seen as a subgroup of other industries - automotive, packaging, construction, housewares, chemicals, etc. - and as a result it has little clout on its own. This is a long-standing problem. Does naming Carteaux change that? No, at least not right away.
Carteaux does, however, have the respect of colleagues in plastics machinery circles and among SPI staffers and active volunteers. So, as always, with SPI the political side is secondary. The group is making a choice that the best way to serve the industry is by helping with competitiveness.
At Demag Plastics Group, Carteaux oversaw the integration of Van Dorn Demag. Some of that transition was painful. He presided over some significant layoffs in the firm's Strongsville, Ohio, headquarters, and it closed a customer support center there as well as some operations in South Carolina. But the company survived, and continues to make machinery in the United States. That itself is a success story, and Carteaux can speak with the authority of a manager who has made tough decisions and helped a manufacturing company survive.
* The search committee liked Carteaux's grasp of the importance of SPI's trade shows, which include North America's mega-show, NPE, as well as Plastics USA.
* SPI likes having a person with plastics experience because it's a complicated industry for an outsider to figure out. The association's machinery, resin and processor interests don't always coincide, and fault lines also occasionally occur between large and small companies.
On the other hand, SPI has modest resources, and hiring someone from within SPI's circle is pretty inward-looking. The search committee apparently decided that having a good leader everyone knows, who can keep the group together and really understands the industry, is best.
SPI plays many roles. It organizes major industry trade shows, which certainly are important to someone with Carteaux's background. It also needs to work closely and cooperatively with other groups, such as the American Plastics Council, the Society of Plastics Engineers, and various international plastics organizations. It remains to be seen if the extroverted Carteaux has the temperament to be an effective diplomat in such circles.
But, as with George W. Bush in the last U.S. presidential election, many in the plastics industry at least have a very good sense of what they're getting in Bill Carteaux. It's an intriguing choice, the implications of which are likely to be felt for years to come.