There's been a lot of attention focused on where the plastics industry will find its next generation of workers.
But how about the next generation of plastics company managers, and CEOs?
There's already been a big change at the top at most plastics companies — both processors and suppliers — in the last decade or two.
Consider this history lesson:
The plastics industry has a reputation as being a pretty new manufacturing sector, but it actually is about 108 years old now — Leo Baekeland filed for a patent on Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, in 1907.
The first generation of plastics company CEOs included a lot of inventors like Baekeland. That group, which dominated the industry up until the 1940s, is long gone.
The second generation, the entrepreneurs that started companies in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, are now retired, too. You know the stereotype: these were the people who got their start as toolmakers, product designers and innovators. Many had a college degree, but it wasn't a requirement. They built plastics into the third-largest U.S. manufacturing sector, mostly by replacing products made from “conventional” materials like glass, metal and paper.
Many of them knew how to run processing equipment. They got their hands dirty.
What about today's generation of CEOs? Where are they coming from, what skills do they have, and what will be their legacy for future generations?
We're about to find out.
Plastics News plans to run a special report in our Nov. 23 issue that we're calling the CEO issue. It's going to include lots of profiles of current and retired plastics industry CEOs — similar to our recent Women in Plastics and Rising Stars special issues, but with a focus exclusively at the folks at the top of the organization chart.
We'll profile CEOs of major North American — and global — processor companies, including family-owned, publicly traded and privately held companies (we all know there are a lot of private equity owners in plastics these days, and we will include that sector).
We're casting the net wide for a mix of processes (injection molders, blow molders, extruders, thermoformers, rotomolders and more), and end markets (automotive, packaging, construction, medical, housewares, to name a few).
The report will include key CEOs at supplier companies too, including toolmakers, machinery and resin companies, compounders, distributors and recyclers.
And we're out to include a diverse mix of people, not page after page of white men.
We're interested in learning more about the men and women in charge at plastics companies, to get a sense of where the industry is today and where it's headed in the next 10 years or so.
Just 10 years? Actually that may be stretching the timeline. According to our sister newspaper Workforce Management, the average tenure of a CEO of an S&P 500 company is 8.1 years — and one expert says the ideal tenure is just 4.8 years.
Longer stints tend to strengthen company bonds with employees, but weaken the relationship with customers, they say.
Now I work for a 99-year-old company that's on just its third generation of family-owned management, so I see advantages of having stability in the corner office. And I imagine that a lot of plastics company managers feel the same way.
So who is the current generation of plastics CEOs? Where were they educated, what skills do they have, how are they different from the managers who came before them? I have some theories on this, but I'm looking forward to what the CEOs themselves have to say.
If you'd like to participate, visit PlasticsNews.com/ceo to fill out our survey. I look forward to hearing from you.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Contact him on Twitter @donloepp.