Jack Welch got into the Plastics Hall of Fame, but he skipped the June 19 induction ceremony, the first night of NPE 2006. That got some people mad — mainly veteran, activist types who respect the institution of the Plastics Hall of Fame.
At NPE, I heard several of them say that the Plastics Academy should change the rules. Make it mandatory to attend the ceremony, or you don't get in, they groused. (An exception would be made if you couldn't make it for health reasons, which is what happened this year with Georg Menges, 82, the longtime head of Germany's IKV plastics institute.)
This sounds too harsh to me. First, we don't know the reason Welch didn't come to Chicago. He did not issue a statement spelling out his thinking, like when Marlon Brando skipped the 1972 Academy Awards to protest the treatment of American Indians.
Certainly, I can understand how people who love the Plastics Hall of Fame would speculate that Welch, a wealthy, powerful man, simply blew off their hallowed event. Maybe that's simply the reason. Or maybe Welch didn't want to upstage the ceremony's key-note speaker, Charlene Begley, head of GE Plastics, where Welch got his start at General Electric Co.
Maybe. We don't know for sure.
Here's my opinion: It doesn't make any difference.
That's right. You just don't deny a worthy industry leader induction into that industry's hall of fame because he or she doesn't show up to make an acceptance speech.
Certainly, Welch is worthy. Not because he's on TV, or because his books are business best-sellers. He is a chemical engineer — a fact I didn't even know until I interviewed him for a hall of fame profile — who spent his first 11 years at GE's then-fledgling plastics business. Yes, early on, he aggressively wanted to move higher in the company, a fact that is obvious by reading his 2001 book Jack: Straight From the Gut.
There's a big plastics angle. Welch, during his plastics days, picked up many of the principles he would use to stir up General Electric, generating tremendous shareholder wealth over his 20 years as chief executive officer. Plastics taught him that it was possible, at giant GE, to have a small-company attitude, where taking chances is OK. Plastics is, at its best, entrepreneurial, offering unlimited chances to develop new materials and processes. That was Welch's take-away.
I know lots of people were disappointed that Welch didn't show up. Welch is a bona fide, international business celebrity who drove General Electric Co. to new heights. Jack Welch on your agenda would add a buzz to the Plastics Hall of Fame dinner.
I know that Gordon Lankton of Nypro Inc., who nominated Welch for the honor, personally lobbied hard to convince him to attend. (Just to be clear, Lankton was not one of the people who complained to me).
Jack, if you're reading this, you missed a heartfelt evening, where the tuxedo-clad current members all lined up to shake the hands of the incoming hall of famers as each approached the podium. History was made, since it was the first NPE induction that included members from outside the United States.
And, Jack, since we didn't see you at the Chicago Hilton and Towers during NPE, promise us that one day, you'll make the short drive from Boston to visit the National Plastics Center in Leominster, Mass., to check out the Plastics Hall of Fame in person.
The Plastics Academy made a good change when it opened up to non-U.S. citizens. That was a good change, needed to keep pace with the globalization of business.
But let's not change the rules another time, to block membership to those who miss the NPE induction. It's exclusionary and not really necessary, since 99.9 percent of inductees wouldn't think of missing it.
And it isn't even workable; I can dream up all kinds of exceptions, like a death in the family. Are you going to grab the honor back from someone? How about an asterisk?
Let's not go there. Lighten up.
Bregar is an Akron-based Plastics News senior reporter. He has interviewed all the living Plastics Hall of Fame members who have been inducted since 1991.