Rod Lowman, president of the American Plastics Council, has left to head a new paper industry organization, as the plastics group is restructured and folded completely into its parent organization, the American Chemistry Council.
Lowman, a longtime APC staffer, had headed the group since 2002, a period of significant downsizing for APC as the overall industry struggled with a tough economy and high raw material costs.
Early in his tenure, APC merged with the larger ACC but retained its own name and substantial autonomy. Since then, some of that separation has eroded, as APC's long-running ad campaign, which makes up about 50 percent of its budget, was integrated into ACC, and APC's membership and budgets dropped significantly.
The change in APC's status comes amid a broad restructuring of ACC announced Dec. 2 by its new president and chief executive officer, Jack Gerard. The changes, including 41 layoffs, are designed to retool ACC to focus more on issues management and make it a more effective advocate, he said.
Lowman will take over as president of the Abundant Forests Alliance, a new trade association of timber and paper companies that wants to start a national campaign to promote its industry, similar to what APC did. He left APC Dec. 2.
The top member-company executive at APC said the changes still will leave a significant plastics presence within ACC. Both groups are in Arlington, Va.
``We're moving APC from a free-standing trade association to a portion of ACC,'' said Chris Pappas, incoming APC chairman and styrenics president at Nova Chemicals Inc. in Pittsburgh.
``Within ACC, there will be a very strong plastics sector.''
That sector will include APC's core activities in the packaging, electronics, automotive and construction markets, and various sector-specific groups, like the Polystyrene Packaging Council and the Vinyl Institute.
It was not immediately clear what impact the restructuring will have on plastics programs.
Gerard said in a telephone interview that ``we will spend what resources are necessary to protect the plastics franchise,'' and he said plastics will retain its own governing body.
Pappas said the changes will strengthen the plastics sector, because the market-focused groups will have the same or more funding, and they can tie into ACC's beefed-up issues-management and advocacy efforts: ``There is nothing about that work that will be diminished in that structure.''
But there are questions about whether losing the multimillion-dollar, plastics-specific ad campaign, for example, ultimately will hurt the industry. Industry officials credit the decade-long, $250 million-plus campaign with significantly improving the public image of plastics.
Both Lowman and Pappas said the public's opinion of the industry has dropped since the APC ads went off the air in March, but plastics remains in the band of favorability with other materials, the benchmark that APC uses.
The drop was expected and the industry's image should pick up now that ACC's ads, which include some plastics themes, have started, Lowman said. ACC will measure the image early in 2006, Pappas said.
``If it isn't effective in that venue, we'll assess what to do about it,'' Pappas said.
Lowman was one of five senior executives that ACC announced Nov. 29 were leaving.
The other top executives leaving are Charles Van Vlack, executive vice president; Courtney Price, vice president and head of Chemstar activities; Terry Yosie, vice president and head of its Responsible Care program; and Clifford Howlett, vice president and executive director of the Chlorine Chemistry Council.
Lowman, who also held the title of ACC executive vice president, said the timing of his departure with the restructuring is a coincidence. He said AFA approached him before Gerard took over ACC in July.
Lowman oversaw APC during a time of downsizing among trade groups throughout the industry, driven by tough economic times faced by member companies. APC's budget, for example, was cut in half, to about $20 million, in 2004, after six of its 23 member firms left. Some of them grumbled that the APC/ACC merger had not gone as well as expected.
Lowman said the planners of the ACC/APC merger saw closer integration in areas like state government affairs and public image campaigns, although he said the benefits have taken longer to achieve than predicted.
ACC has suffered from instability in its top leadership spot the past few years. Former President Greg Lebedev left the group abruptly in 2004, after less than two years on the job, and was replaced on an interim basis by chemical industry executive Thomas Reilly.
Lowman said that departure contributed to problems implementing the merger, but he said Gerard enjoys more board support and will get the integration of the two groups back on track.
``What we have really done today is completed the merger of APC and ACC,'' he said.
``By doing that we have created significant advocacy strength we can bring on behalf of plastics issues.''
Lowman, who has been with APC and its predecessor groups since 1988, said his chief accomplishments include building teams to promote plastics recycling and the ``Plastics Make It Possible'' ad campaign.
He joined APC's predecessor, the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, as vice president of government affairs, after a career in the petrochemical industry.