Antec 2017 will be the last one headed by Willem De Vos, who is leaving as CEO of the Society of Plastics Engineers.
SPE hired De Vos in 2012, seeking his international business experience, since he spent more than two decades in plastics in Europe and Asia. He came to the society from his position as CEO of Vitalo Group, a global thermoformer and packaging producer based in Belgium.
De Vos, who goes by Wim, said he is in negotiations for another job and has some options, as he wants to remain in the chemicals or plastics industries.
"I'm very optimistic about the plastics industry," said De Vos, 48. "We will continue to outperform the other materials. Plastics will continue to grow two or three times faster than glass, metal, wood and other materials."
When SPE in December announced that De Vos was leaving, Plastics News reported that he advocates moving back to a U.S.-based CEO. It reflects what he learned working directly at SPE the last five years: the need to scale back to its core U.S. market and keep improving there.
De Vos thinks the globalization move was a good idea, but SPE needs to refocus on North America. Then, later, the society will be able to look to expand again on the international scene, he said.
"Compare it with having a race car which is losing all the races in the U.S., do you think it will win race abroad?" he said about SPE.
Plastics News asked De Vos to look far into the future — 15 or 20 years. SPE's achievements have been well-documented under De Vos' leadership.
The Chain social networking site lets SPE members interact. He also predicts the use of apps — now common for things like getting a ride or buying a book — will move to business functions such as ordering resin and compounds.
"I see the Chain becoming more important than our website — because it's instant. It's not a static thing. The Chain is dynamic. You ask a question, you get a reply. And all these apps are dynamic, and it's the dynamic things that are going to win in the future," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview as Antec 2017 nears, De Vos also laid out a future of intelligent refrigerators and ordering resin as easy as you get an Uber.
Looking forward, does De Vos think SPE will move back more strongly in the international direction?
"I am convinced that international activities and a global presence will remain important for SPE," he said.
"One of the reasons I was hired was indeed to deploy the internationalization strategy that SPE had. SPE had lost 25,000 from its 40,000 members in the course of about a decade. Back in 2011, it was assumed we only could grow internationally. I immediately started working on this from my Europe-based location," De Vos said.
"However, I found out that the reason for the drop in membership had several other, much deeper reasons and issues, and that these same issues would not make the internationalization successful."
Much has been written about the decline of volunteerism — and even the disconnection of family members, neighbors, political beliefs. "Bowling Alone" is the seminal book on the subject.
But De Vos said the U.S. actually is a leader in volunteerism and social activism, when you look at the international situation. During his travels as SPE's top executive, De Vos asked industry officials in many countries about how volunteering and going to meetings meshes with local social and cultural norms.
In Japan, for instance, high-level people volunteer their time in trade associations. But you kind of have to be "invited" to join, he said.
In emerging markets and fast-growing countries like China, everybody is working hard and enjoying the growth, De Vos said. "People don't take time for volunteerism. They are too busy in their careers, instead of spending all their time in an association."
In Singapore, a country with higher living standards, people do have time to work in associations, he said.
"SPE depends a lot on volunteers. And the volunteer 'markets,' if I can call them so, are very different in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China and other countries. It was a mistake to think that our U.S.-centric business model would work the same way in the rest of the world," he said. "So solving our issues and folding back to focus on our home market of North America was a necessity."
Two-thirds of SPE members are from the United States, De Vos said.