NEWTOWN, CONN. (Jan. 20, 12:25 p.m. ET) — The new CEO of the Society of Plastics Engineers believes speed is important in solving many of the challenges facing the plastics industry.
“I'm pretty direct and I like things to move fast,” said Willem De Vos, a plastics and SPE veteran who took the reins Jan. 19. “The plastics industry has changed a lot in the past two decades.”
De Vos, who goes by Wim, said in a telephone interview that his management style also includes directness and adapting to change. Increasing SPE membership and addressing raw material price hikes are a few big issues that will test his ability to effect change.
De Vos was CEO of Vitalo Group, a global thermoformer and packaging producer based in Meulebeke, Belgium. Since it was founded as a one-plant business in 1995, Vitalo has grown into a multifacility operation in Europe, the U.S., Mexico, India, Japan, China, Thailand and the Philippines. He is a native of Belgium.
De Vos brings his global view to his new job.
“The U.S. is a very important region, with more than two-thirds of SPE's members,” De Vos said. “But plastics are strong in Asia and other emerging markets. We need to grow along with the markets. One of my focuses will be establishing SPE in emerging markets.”
China, for example, is a key plastics market but SPE has almost no presence there. By going to emerging markets SPE will support U.S. members who are doing business in the regions.
Membership in Newtown, Conn.-based SPE is about 15,000, about half the size of a decade ago. SPE has been hit by plastics industry layoffs, globalization and the challenge of drawing young people into the society — problems faced by all trade associations.
Boosting membership in the U.S. and abroad will rely on providing more value to SPE membership. The Internet has captured part of SPE's mandate to provide technical information, and to get it back SPE must convince prospective members of the society's value, according to De Vos. The new CEO said he will spend a lot of time with SPE's board over the next few months to find ways to improve value.
“In our worldwide search for a new [CEO], we were delighted to find in Wim a 20-year veteran of the plastics industry who is already active in and understands our society, has a truly global perspective and brings outstanding management experience at a time when SPE is focused on growth,” said 2011-12 SPE President Russell Broome in a news release.
“His expertise in extending business activities into emerging markets and his global network in the plastics industry will be of enormous value in carrying out SPE's mission of strategic growth,” said Broome, who is strategic accounts manager at PolyOne Corp. in Avon Lake, Ohio.
De Vos succeeds Susan Oderwald, who left SPE in December. Oderwald had been executive director since 2004, two years after joining SPE as deputy executive director. Kellen Co. led the search for her replacement.
Prior to working at Vitalo, De Vos managed compounding and processing units of Recticel SA, a Brussels producer of polyurethane automotive components. He first supervised plants in Belgium and Detroit. Then, as director of Recticel's automotive interior solutions business, based in Germany, he was responsible for several European and Asian car brands. He set up Recticel's first plant in China and was a board member of a Japanese joint venture.
De Vos began his plastics career in 1991 with technical and sales positions at Eurocompound, a Belgium-based producer of latex emulsions for the textile and automotive industries.
As a member of SPE, De Vos most recently served as chair-elect of the European Thermoforming Division. He speaks Dutch, English, French, German and some Italian.
De Vos, 42, is married with two teenage daughters. He said he has spent half his working life traveling and will continue to be a frequent flyer. He plans to remain based in Belgium and will be a regular on trips to SPE's headquarters in Connecticut.
The selection of De Vos won praise from several members of SPE's executive committee who are outside of North America.
“He is a well-respected leader in the global plastics industry, and his will expertise will enhance the prospects of SPE as it grows over the coming years,” said Ken Braney, SPE's immediate past president for 2010-11. Braney is managing director of Thermoforming Solutions Ltd. of Dartford, England.
SPE's vice president of marketing, Olivier Crave, from France, called the hiring of De Vos “great news for SPE” and said: “He will bring to SPE his international view, his excellent fund-raising capabilities due to his past job and will definitely embrace the change” SPE needs. Crave is president of sales and marketing firm O.C. Team in Vaux-en-Bugey, France.
SPE's vice president and treasurer, Vijay Boolani, is from India. He said board members spent a lot of time on the decision, “with the tough task of selecting from a sizable number of applicants.”
“Willem De Vos was selected unanimously after his strengths were assessed, which [were] his vast experience and running an industry with a plastics background,” said Boolani, president of Mumbai-based machinery maker Boolani Engineering Corp. “His approach to problem-solving and carrying SPE to greater global heights were the key reasons to zero in on him as the right candidate for this prestigious job.”
De Vos holds an engineering degree in polymer chemistry from Industriële Hogeschool CTL in Gent, Belgium, and an executive MBA from Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School.
“I like to look at SPE as a company,” De Vos concluded.