Susan Oderwald, executive director of the Society of Plastics Engineers, has announced she will resign from the group's top post by year's end.
Oderwald has served as executive director since 2004, steering the group through uncertain economic and industry times. She joined the group in 2001 as deputy executive director.
“Susan has done a great job over the last 11 years,” said SPE President Russell Broome in an Aug. 10 telephone interview. “She kept us afloat, turned the ship around. She weathered the storm of the whole industry tightening up. She made difficult, strategic decisions. She's leaving the society when things are in a much better position.”
Indeed, Oderwald herself identifies that as her key accomplishment.
“SPE, just like the plastics industry, experienced a lot of structural changes throughout the last decade,” Oderwald wrote in an e-mail. “Keeping the organization in good financial stead, while repositioning it for future growth, was not an easy task.”
The organization also retooled its online presence, Oderwald said, pioneering online webinars for the plastics industry. SPE also hosts the largest online plastics network on LinkedIn, cresting at 10,000 members the week of Aug. 8.
Oderwald had to find ways to move the organization forward financially. Those methods included creating a deep relationship with Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, which now co-publishes SPE's scholarly journals and Plastics Engineering magazine, Oderwald said.
“This partnership created the online access to SPE's Journals back to the 1940s never before available, and turned our journal function into one of SPE's most stable and significant revenue sources, while allowing us to shed more than $1 million in cost,” she said.
She also focused on strategic partnering, outsourcing and technology acquisitions that all have led to a much leaner staff and headquarters function, cutting more than $1.3 million in costs and allowing SPE to sell its building and create a more liquid and flexible asset base.
In terms of creating new revenue and membership sources, Oderwald said that was accomplished through establishing other partnerships. Those efforts include holding Antec, SPE's annual technical conference, at NPE, co-hosting of a new online industry directory, and collocating SPE Eurotec at Equiplast in Barcelona, Spain, this November.
For the next stage of her career, her goal is to apply all of her experience and learning as a corporate non-profit professional to mission-based or humanitarian efforts.
“Having worked with this industry, I have a real appreciation for how simple technologies and access to others can significantly advance the quality of life and economic opportunities for our world's most vulnerable populations,” she said. “I hope to spend the next part of my career making specific and tangible differences to reduce poverty, enhance access to health care and energy, and create economic opportunity for those in need.
“In short, I am looking forward to becoming part of a growing movement of non-profit entrepreneurial organizations seeking to create a better world.”
As for SPE's future, and what it should represent for an industry that has had its share of hard times, Oderwald said the group's core is about how technology innovations drive the plastics industry.
“We are the gathering place of ideas for new and improved technologies, which in turn drive the economic success of our industry — regardless of whether or not we are in good or bad economic times,” she said.
“I can tell you that SPE's members include some of the smartest people I've ever met. The world needs our industry to solve some of its biggest problems, whether that's increased agricultural production, improved and affordable health care, better solar cells, less waste — the list goes on and on.
“SPE is the place where those ideas germinate, grow and are ultimately developed and distributed. The way we organize and collaborate globally may continue to change and evolve in new ways, but our core mission of advancing the industry through technical innovations in polymers and plastics is as important today as it was when we organized in 1942. SPE's greatest strength is its grass-roots, volunteer base.
“As long as SPE can find ways to keep people engaged in the conversation, it holds a unique and critical place in our industry.”
The Newtown, Conn.-based group now will conduct a global search for a new executive director.
“We have decided as a group to look within the industry,” rather than in the trade association management industry, Broome said. “We're looking at the industry globally as well. We're not restricting ourselves to North America.”
SPE also will hire an outside firm to help with the search.