The Society of Plastics Engineers' next two presidents, Ken Braney and Russell Broome, embody the two main goals as SPE reinvents itself: get more global and attract young members.
Both are important for SPE's future, leaders of the professional society said at Antec 2010, held May 16-20 in Orlando. Executive Director Susan Oderwald said membership fell to 14,500 at the end of 2009, down 9 percent from 16,000 in 2008.
The recession certainly hurt, but retaining membership has been a long-term struggle. A decade ago, SPE's membership was around 30,000.
At Antec, Oderwald said SPE is looking ahead. While we took a hard hit on membership in 2009, SPE is now slowly adding to its member ranks, and continues to evolve to meet members' needs in this new economic environment, she said. SPE's success over the next few years will be heavily dependent on bolstering its membership.
Braney, who becomes SPE president for 2010-11, represents SPE's ongoing globalization. He is managing director of Thermoforming Solutions Ltd. of Dartford, England and the first president who is not a resident of North America. He helped start SPE's European Thermoforming Division.
The president-elect, Broome, 38, represents the move to lure more young professionals into an SPE where most members are older than 50. Broome joined SPE while he was a college student, when his father encouraged him to join the group's Piedmont coastal section in North Carolina.
Broome will become president at next year's Antec. He is business development manager at PolyOne Corp. of Avon Lake, Ohio.
Braney pledged to be a globe-trotting president. So far, his planned trips this year include an SPE event in Hungary, visits with Broome to several East Coast SPE sections, the SPE Thermoforming Conference in Milwaukee, visits to SPE leaders in Chicago and Akron, then SPE's automotive awards event in Detroit.
The main thing is raising the profile of SPE because I believe the profile is too low. Raising the membership, and energizing membership, Braney said.
Next year, SPE will hold its first Antec-style technical conferences in Europe and Asia. SPE Asiatec will be held in Tokyo, Feb. 15-17, followed by Eurotec in November in Barcelona, Spain.
SPE has long been active in Europe, and the society also has groups in Mexico, the Middle East, Asia and Brazil.
Braney outlined the issues facing SPE in a speech during Antec's business luncheon. Later, he joined Oderwald and Broome at a news conference.
Besides Braney, SPE's executive committee now has two other non-North American members. Raed Al-Zubi, who represents the Middle East section, flew home early from Antec so he could work the SPE booth at the Middle East Waste Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
SPE also has a new European chairman: Olivier Crave, president of O.C. Team, a sales and marketing firm in Vaux-en-Bugey, France. Crave and Al-Zubi both are vice presidents of the society.
Braney said SPE is leading the way in a world undefined by geography.
The world is increasingly linked through the Internet which also plays a key role in SPE's strategy to attract young people.
Oderwald said SPE now has the largest group on LinkedIn for plastics professionals, with more than 5,000 members. More than 1,000 people use SPE's Facebook page, which includes a young professionals blog.
Members are using e-mail and social media to schedule meet-ups informal get-togethers. Braney said a few members in Philadelphia started meeting that way for coffee, and now the SPE section there is getting revitalized.
Facebook tends to attract a younger crowd, but Broome said SPE's youth movement is about face-to-face interaction, too. At the 2009 Antec, SPE held speed interviews, where college students rotate between prospective employers every five minutes. SPE plans to do that again at the 2011 Antec, in Boston, he said.
At this year's Antec, SPE organized a tour of Custom Plastic Developments Inc. in Kissimmee, Fla. And the society held a competition for 50 interactive posters, where students explain their research next to a display.
Broome said he was studying mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University when his father, Clark Broome, brought him along to meetings. He ended up getting into plastics, and has served as SPE's student activities chairman.
We have really tried to elevate students to be a focus of SPE. I think anybody you talk to will agree that's our future, Broome said. If we don't invest in that, we're going to be really starving in the future.
He said SPE leadership is listening to find out what students, and their college professors, want from the society.
We need to find out their idea of networking. Their needs to get into the workplace are different now than they used to be, Broome said.
Broome said SPE activists have encouraged executives at plastics firms that hire these young professionals to promote membership in the organization, and let them attend regional technical conferences and the Antecs, where 630 technical papers were presented this year.
We've got to do a better job educating the corporate community on the value of SPE, especially for their younger employees, Broome said.
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