A few minutes with Bill Carteaux is all you need to see the energy, passion and enthusiasm he brings daily to his job as president and chief executive officer of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Whether he's talking about the challenges that lie ahead, the changes he's initiated in his first 19 months or responding to what others are saying - both positive and negative - there's an excitement in his voice and an eagerness to take SPI to new heights.
In midsentence, he'll get up and grab an item from his bookcase, or share an idea he has to make SPI more valuable for members and more of a voice in Washington. He also takes the time to point out the new book he has read most recently: 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don't, by renowned management author Jim Collins.
Carteaux's voracious appetite for learning and driving SPI forward has given the association increasing respect in Washington and among its members - quite a contrast to just a few years ago when SPI was perceived by many as a moribund organization.
Carteaux - the first person from a machinery company to head the industry's largest association - gets plaudits from his staff, members and observers for his tireless work, his leadership and his personal drive. Prior to joining Washington-based SPI, Carteaux was president and chief executive officer for the Americas for Demag Plastics Group and co-executive managing director of the German firm's global business.
``He has energized the organization and made things happen,'' said Jane Austin, chairwoman of SPI and global business director of chloroelastomers for DuPont Performance Elastomers LLC in Wilmington, Del.
``I don't know if we could ask for more. He is credible. He is energetic. He has definitely increased our value to members. He has gotten the message out in a clear, crisp concise way about how important we are to the U.S. economy.''
According to sources inside and outside the Beltway, Carteaux has:
* Put in place a new government relations team to replace a staff that was considered by some to be ineffective for the past 20 years.
* Reached out to other plastics groups in an effort to reunite a fractured industry, form partnerships and alliances and get the industry to speak with one voice.
* Increased the understanding of the plastics industry and its impact on the U.S. economy among legislators and regulators.
* Helped turn the industry's triennial NPE into a global showcase.
* Developed a global vision that includes working with plastics organizations in other countries.
``He is open to new ideas, very willing to learn and a good listener,'' said one Washington insider. ``He came in with fresh eyes and assessed what SPI should and should not be doing and reorganized it. He has made SPI more well-known and more of a player in public policy issues and legislative circles.''
``Bill has a far more global perspective,'' said one executive at an SPI member company. ``He is meeting and reaching out to others. We are just at the beginning of what can be accomplished. He has great ideas, great vision and makes decision quickly. He has thrown his heart and soul into this.''
That willingness to take a fresh look included reassessing his own preconceived notions, said Carteaux, noting that he has a different view of SPI now that he is on the inside.
``Before I became president, I [viewed] trade shows and advocacy as SPI's core competencies,'' said Carteaux, a former SPI board member. ``But it is clear that our core competencies are more in the relationships we have, the political capital we have.''
Criticisms center on SPI not having more current statistics in its database - its current fact sheet is from 2004 - and not having more depth in its staff.
Another sore point is the association not taking a more active role in environmental issues - especially in California, where San Francisco banned the use of phthalates in some products and Oakland passed a ban on polystyrene foam packaging - and the health controversies surrounding PVC, bisphenol A and perfluoroctaonoic acid.
``A number of members wished he would have gotten more involved'' in those issues, said an official at an organization that works closely with SPI, arguing that they are ``dangerous ... because other cities can pick up on those bans.''
In response, Carteaux said SPI needs to ``represent the entire industry on the effects on plastics on the environment, but it is not up to SPI to be out in front on every issue.''
``We try not to step on other guys' toes, but rather work behind the scenes'' with other plastics organizations that have taken the lead role in fighting the attacks on PVC and PFOA, for example. ``Just because we are not out in the forefront doesn't mean that we are not engaged in the issues.''
``All of our members are dealing with the attacks'' on plastics - in the form of product and landfill bans - both in the U.S. and across the globe. ``We have to make sure we continue to be proactive and show [others] that we care about the environment and that we believe in sustainability.''
As for statistics, he acknowledged the need for improvements in that area.
``We do need and have had internal discussions about expanding the statistical database. We are working with third-party groups to help us have more relevant information for our members,'' he said.
At the same time, he was quick to point out that the association ``is at the mercy of the government'' for most of its data and disagreed with the contention by others that the statistics they have used have hurt their ability to make valid points in Washington circles.
``It is not a detriment to us on Capitol Hill because we have data from individual states going back five to seven years. The data is relevant and shows any trends that are occurring,'' Carteaux said.
>From an advocacy standpoint, ``we were starting from nothing 19 months ago,'' he said. ``We have gone from not being known in Washington to where people in Washington know who we are and where we get calls daily when there is legislation affecting plastics,'' he said.
``We have made the point that this is a vital part of the economy,'' with 1.3 million workers in nearly 19,000 facilities in the United States.
He points with particular pride to the SPI government relations team of Karen Toliver, vice president of international affairs and trade counsel; Chris Brown, senior director of federal government affairs; Jane Adams, director of state government affairs; and legislative assistant Natha Freiburg. Carteaux credited them with giving SPI a higher profile among decision-makers in Washington.
SPI has become ``the go-to association for the plastics industry on trade,'' he said. ``Karen has gotten us on the map with international trade issues.''
Others agree with that assessment. ``Karen and Chris command a significant amount of respect,'' said one veteran Washington lobbyist. ``Their experience and professionalism are top-notch.''
Carteaux said SPI was able to bring about changes in the Central American Free Trade Agreement to make it better for plastics processors, adding that SPI continues to have discussions with U.S. trade representatives to ensure that free trade agreements being developed with Malaysia and South Korea are good for all segments of SPI membership - machinery makers, resin manufacturers and processors.
``If we hadn't done what we had done for CAFTA,'' to get tariffs accelerated, ``no one else would have,'' he said.
Similarly, SPI played a lead role in the effort to restore $6 million into the Department of Agriculture budget to continue the popular food-contact notification program, which speeds up approval for food-packaging applications.
``We have stayed very focused and have not shotgunned many issues,'' he said. ``I always focus on energy and trade.''