The recent shake-up at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. - including the ouster of three longtime executive directors and talk of another revision in the dues structure - has some members concerned about SPI leadership and their own ability to influence policy and budget issues.
Some members say their concerns include the following:
* That the current option to allocate as much as 40 percent of their dues to specific business units could change.
* That Fluoropolymers Division members were not consulted about the dismissal of Allen Weidman, who had served as the division's executive director since joining SPI almost 17 years ago and also headed the Alliance of Plastics Processors for the past six years. Some SPI members have voiced concern over who will spearhead Fluoropolymers Division initiatives involving perfluorooctanoic acid, now that Weidman is gone.
* That each business sector's fall meeting is being replaced by an annual, industrywide event for all processors. The event, still in planning stages, would include an industrywide design competition in several categories and breakout conferences for each group. It would encompass various business units, such as the Film and Bag Federation, the Molders Division, the Thermoforming Institute and the Sheet Producers Division. Consequently, individual SPI units would have one meeting a year instead of the two they currently hold.
As part of the changes, SPI also let go 15-year SPI veteran Donna Dempsey, who had been executive director of the Film and Bag Federation since 1999, and Frank Capolupo, who spent 24 years at SPI as executive director of the Western Region.
Kevin Ott - who created the elastomer pavilion at NPE 2006 - was named executive director of FBF, but the other two positions remain unfilled.
Other changes in the past six weeks include shifting Terry Peters to head the Fluoropolymers Division and adding Neil Pratt as senior director of international trade and trade counsel, and Gene Sanders as vice president of trade shows. Earlier this year Rick Sturgis, Southern Region director, was made vice president of regional operations and membership sales and charged with increasing membership.
The changes also eliminated the strategic-management groups and raised the importance of the three industry councils - material suppliers, processors and equipment - with the appointments of Lynne Harris, Susan Howe and Walt Bishop, respectively, to head those groups.
In an interview at SPI's Washington headquarters, President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Carteaux declined to give specific reasons for the personnel dismissals.
``We need people that will execute ideas that members bring forward, work across all lines of SPI and be team members,'' he said. ``We need people who will listen to members and follow through on what members want, bring ideas back to divisions on what they can do to improve that division and people who will do things that are for the betterment of SPI.''
Carteaux said he was meeting with board members of the Alliance of Plastics Processors and the Western Region to determine what type of leadership the groups need at this time. He called those units, as well as the Fluoropolymers Division, very important.
Changes in the governing structure are part of an evolution needed to simplify the organization and better represent the three industry sectors, Carteaux said.
``One of the things that we have to recognize is that members are too busy to spend the time they used to spend in association activities even five years ago,'' he said. ``We needed to align the governance to put power in the council to work on issues in their sectors. It also ensures that the business units have their say-so in policy issues and brings them into the loop.''
The idea of a single show for all processors - a radical departure from past policies - has its proponents and detractors.
``There is no value in an annual meeting for the business units,'' one source said. ``The business units like to have two meetings a year with specific value and with programs and projects tailored to their specific needs.''
Jack Avery, a principal in Avery Plastics Consulting in Salt Lake City and longtime member of APP, is among those who welcome a leadership change at APP and the possibility of a single show.
``We need to learn from each other how to efficiently use and get the best prices on raw materials,'' said Avery, who has played a leadership role in the division for years. ``SPI can help companies learn how to integrate lean manufacturing and give them some training in that area, and help all processors learn how to integrate with [original equipment manufacturers] and with the industrial design community to get value.''
Uncertain of change
Board members of APP were noncommittal about the change.
``At this point, we want to abstain from saying anything until we see how things are going,'' said Don Wisch, president of Delta Mold Inc. in Charlotte, N.C. Wisch said he was speaking for himself and for Paul Dier, chairman of APP's executive committee and sales and technical specialist at Bauer Plastics Tech- nology Group in Clinton, Mich.
``We are starting to get a little bit of an inkling of how this is going to work,'' Wisch said. ``I am encouraged by the fact that we are probably going to get a lot more support from SPI to make a much larger showing at the parts convention, probably in the fall of next year,'' Wisch said.
Attendance at APP's annual conference has dropped from more than 500 in the early 1990s to 160 this year. Ideas under consideration for a new design show include more competition categories for large parts, the medical segment and sustainability, among others, sources said.
Fluoropolymers Division members are also divided about the changes. ``I am beginning to wonder if we need SPI,'' said David Willis Jr., president of Whitford Corp. in Elverson, Pa. ``We need someone who understands our industry, and I don't think Bill Carteaux does.''
Still, Willis said Carteaux bought himself some time when he met with the board of the Fluoropolymers Division in late July.
Carteaux called the meeting an opportunity for SPI leaders to hear the concerns of the division's members, adding that they have to decide ``what they want to be three to five years from now.''
Initially, the Fluoropolymers Division will pull together a set of talking points for dialogue with SPI, especially with Carteaux and Peters, on the benefits of fluoropolymers, said Bruce Nesbitt, owner of Orion Industries Ltd. in Chicago and a division member.
Nesbitt is more optimistic than Willis about the replacement of Weidman with Peters.
``We have to give SPI management the nuts and bolts of our story so they can tell our story to legislators and others on Capitol Hill,'' said Nesbitt, who will lead a group charged with that task. ``This is Bill's strength. ... He is a very skilled portrayer of facts, a confident lobbyist and the right type of guy to tell the story. Terry Peters has a lot of trade organization background, and seems to have the right set of skills to energize the program. But we have to hold them accountable.''
Membership losses would be damaging. While SPI membership has been stable at roughly 1,100 members under Carteaux, it is still a far cry from the 2,000 members SPI had 10 years ago. What's more, SPI's annual operating budget is only $7 million, compared with $30 million back then.
Carteaux said the dues structure is being examined to find the best way to get to the point where the business units can spend money on what they want and members can allocate dollars toward programs, while ensuring the core of SPI has the operating funds it needs.
Dues were increased last in 2002, with processors bearing the brunt. The move reversed a dues decrease made in 1997 in hopes of attracting more processor members at the time. Processors currently represent about one-third of SPI members but only a small portion of the more than 10,000 total processors in the United States.
``One of the options we are looking at [is] increasing the amount of dues members could allocate,'' Carteaux said. ``It could go up to 60-70 percent.''
But if that option is eliminated or reduced - as some sources claim has been discussed - it could open up a hornet's nest, since 95 percent of member companies now allocate their dues.
Some disgruntled members also question Carteaux's ``one vision, one voice'' policy that he has preached since day one by asking, ``Whose vision, whose voice?''
``This is Bill and the board's vision of what SPI should be, not the members','' one member said.
Several sources also said trying to create one voice for the industry doesn't make sense, as most members are interested only in what happens within their individual sectors.
``Most industry battles are between sectors in the industry,'' one said. ``So there is difficulty in trying to find that common voice.''
Carteaux disagrees: ``If we don't have a unified voice, we are going to lose the war. We can't have two voices. The environmentalists and activists will eat that alive.''