Jay Gardiner is a people person. The energetic New Yorker is a perpetual proponent for plastics trade associations and the National Plastics Center. Gardiner also is president of the Plastics Academy, which administers the Plastics Hall of Fame — where he is one of the new inductees at NPE2012.
He is an unabashed cheerleader for the plastics industry.
“I love the industry, there's no question about it. And I've had a great opportunity through these organizations to meet a lot of people,” he said.
Gardiner, 60, runs Gardiner Plastics Inc., a three-person resin broker and consulting firm in Port Jefferson, N.Y., that helps with mergers, acquisitions and turnarounds.
In a world of tweets, Gardiner is old school. “I would rather meet people face to face,” he said. “Electronic communications are very good for sending documents, or arranging meetings. But I believe modern technology will never replace personal contact in developing relationships.”
Gardiner has always been pretty outgoing. He played in a rock band in college — and indirectly, he can credit rock ‘n' roll with launching his plastics career.
In 1972, Gardiner was finishing up his last semester at Queen's College, part of the City University of New York, to get an industrial psychology degree. “I was supplementing my income by playing in a rock band. One day, one of the members of the band said, ‘I've got a new job.' He was going to work during the day and finish college at night.
“He said, ‘I'm going to sell plastic hangers for clothes.' And I laughed, and he said, ‘But I'm going to be getting $125 a week to start.' My next comment is — can I get a job? In 1972, $125 a week was good to start.” And Gardiner laughed again at the memory of his own Benjamin Braddock moment five years after The Graduate came out.
The next day, Gardiner got a job at Warbern Packaging Industries Inc. selling plastic hangers to the garment industry. He finished college, then traveled around the U.S. He rose to become vice president of marketing operations, as the company became A&E Products Group, and eventually a unit of Tyco International Ltd.
He moved to Bamberger Polymers Inc. in 1980 to become manager of styrenic materials at the resin distributor. Then he moved to another distributor, Marsh Plastics Inc., as the Amherst, N.Y., company opened a New York City office.
As vice president at Marsh Plastics, Gardiner developed what he called a “consultative” approach to resin sales.
“I tried to combine sales with understanding the company I was working with, and their needs, and understanding how to help fit the proper plastic into the application from both a marketing and purchasing standpoint,” he said.
“Many small companies don't have materials management teams.”
That background helped him decide to open Gardiner Plastics on Long Island in 1992.
“A lot of the customers, I've had 20 years,” said.
Gardiner likes working with small plastics processors. “Many of them are family-owned businesses, and we tend to develop a mutually beneficial relationship that … promotes long-term stability,” he said. “My customers know that I'm out there as an advocate for them and they respect that through customer loyalty, and staying with me.”
In the last decade, Gardiner has concentrated more on engineering resins, as a lot of commodity-type molding has moved offshore. But he said work is returning, and small, nimble companies are well-positioned to get it.
“I think there's a resurgence in the American competitive spirit, and I believe we're going to see the results of that,” he said.
Gardiner is a longtime member of the Society of Plastics Engineers. He was chairman of SPE's Antec conference in New York. He joined the executive committee and was elected SPE president for the 1996-97 term.
SPE takes up a lot of time, especially for a small-business owner. Add that to Gardiner's work for the National Plastics Center, the Plastics Academy and the Plastics Pioneers Association, and it adds up. “It's a lot of time away from my core business, but in turn, I've been able to meet people and bring business back to my company,” he said.
Gardiner was the principal author of SPE's 2000 Strategic Plan. He advocates cooperation between SPE, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., and other trade associations.
Gardiner was nominated to the Plastics Hall of Fame by SPI head Bill Carteaux. “Jay's unselfish giving of his time, energy and intellect is unmatched by anyone I have come in contact with in my current role as president and CEO of SPI,” Carteaux wrote in the nomination form.
Trade associations are struggling to attract active members, which Gardiner has observed: “This goes beyond the plastics industry. I think volunteer organizations are having issues now because of the lack of time and lack of discretionary income.”
Today, the business day can extend into the night.
“Years ago we finished work at 5 o'clock, so going to a social evening meeting wasn't an issue,” he said. “You could do it regularly.”
And more companies used to pay SPE dues, encouraging their employees to sign up. It's less common now. “I think that's penny-wise and pound-foolish, and you can quote me on that. Because they lost the conduit to technology, they lose the conduit to issues management,” he said.
Gardiner extends his volunteerism to Long Island, where he has been an emergency medical services volunteer since he was 18. He serves on the Setauket Fire Department and teaches EMS skills at Suffolk Community College.
He wears a pager and still goes out on squad calls.
Gardiner has helped deliver seven newborns. One time, he got back from a business trip in a big snowstorm, at midnight. “At 2 o'clock in the morning, a call went out for our next-door neighbor,” he said.
The roads were bad. Jay and his wife, Diane, who is an emergency medical technician, ran over. “I delivered a healthy baby girl for her right on the dining room floor,” he said.
The 12-year-old neighbor girl now sells the Gardiners Girl Scout cookies every year.