Jaime Gomez is one of an army of plastics professionals who come to NPE and Antec wearing two hats.
He is a partner and chief operating officer in QMeTech LLC in Princeton, N.J., and he also serves in a volunteer role as vice president of events for the Society of Plastics Engineers.
The SPE job is a new one; the position is under the Bethel, Conn.-based group's new structure. But Gomez has a long history of volunteering for SPE, with a specialty in projects aimed at attracting and retaining young professionals.
He spoke about SPE prior to NPE2018.
Q: How many NPEs and Antecs have you been to?
Gomez: NPEs, probably seven. Antecs, honestly, can't remember but more than 15.
Q: Any memories of your first NPE? Or your first Antec?
Gomez: One of my first NPEs, I remember being in the lower floor of one of the buildings in Chicago. Very stuffy and noisy, and you thought it would be fine going outside, except you had to wait for a bus to take you to a hotel, and the bus stop was also under the building where you ended up breathing all the exhaust fumes from all the buses!
I was a student at the University of Connecticut when I attended my first Antec. It was 1986 in Boston. At that time, I was a Ph.D. student and I remember attending the talks, one after another.
It felt worse than going to class at the university. After listening to a day of talks — with acetates! — your head was spinning. Those Antecs were definitely very research-oriented papers and quite academic.
Q: You're now vice president of events for SPE, and you've been on the job about a year. How was the first year on the job?
Gomez: First, this is a volunteer job. No remuneration whatsoever. Second, I am the first VP of events under the new government structure.
Two years ago, the society created a government task force, a committee that put forth a modification to the way in which we operate. The committee created functional VPs with more oversight/insight into particular areas of the operations such as finances, marketing, young professionals, relationships with our divisions and sections, technology and events.
Each position is elected for three years. However, to achieve a smooth transition, some of us had to accept an initial two-year stint so we could get into a rotation where only one-third of the executive board rotates each year, thus preserving history and achieving continuity.
Prior to this, our positions on the executive board rotated every year and thus, it was difficult to get much accomplished. The idea was that you needed to occupy the most relevant positions to aspire to be president of the society. However, this also created a drawback: When you were learning a position and felt you could contribute, it was time to move on. Or you could be "elected/selected" to occupy a position for which you did not have an inclination or were not good at it.
With this background, I hope you can understand that we are still trying to figure out what the VP of events does or how he or she can help the society. We are still in the midst of this transition period so it is hard to assess what works and what doesn't. There are many actions that the individual occupying this position cannot do. For example, there is not an assigned budget to the position, so the VP of events cannot attend events unless he or she is paying for this out of her/his pocket or her/his company is supporting these efforts.
But second and most important (in my opinion), we need to look at SPE history and understand who "owns" the events and how much influence the VP of events may have over them. History can teach us a bit. Many years back, the divisions began setting up their own conferences. These were smaller in size but more focused. You can see, for example: Polyolefins in Houston every year, Color & Appearance, Thermoforming, Auto, etc.
With the years, many of these conferences acquired a very important role and some divisions actually put most of their efforts on the participation in their own conferences rather than Antec, while some other divisions do exactly the opposite.
As years have gone by, specialization has become more relevant and therefore the need for highly focused conferences where you meet vendors, customers, influencers and researchers on a specific topic have prevailed over generic information.
Q: What have you accomplished in the past year?
Gomez: We commissioned the Antec Task Force in April 2017. A group of members dedicated to study Antec and proposed a new format for our flagship conference.
We retained a consultant with ample experience in events and during the past 12 months who became an integral part of this task force. We solicited input and listened to our stakeholders. We received plenty of feedback about the good, the bad and the ugly of the current Antec.
Finally, we put together a proposal that was presented and discussed at the executive board several times. The chief staff executive will present it to council this year at Antec.
Needless to say, there may be controversy, or not, as we are touching a sacred cow for SPE. But, times are changing, and I am sure that the next 75 years will not be like the past 75 years.
Q: What are your goals, both short- and long-term?
Gomez: As the VP of events for SPE, I would like to see Antec operating under the new format and attracting new members to the association.
SPE has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, we continue to be a collection of links rather than a chain as it is evident when many of the divisions and sections are actually better than SPE central/national/international/headquarters.
Q: What's your main duty at Antec and NPE?
Gomez: I would like to think that I am an observer and a listener. I would like to collect as much information as possible that help us design better events going forward.
Q: What do you think a typical day at Antec will be like for you?
Gomez: Attend conferences that I consider important/beneficial in my line of work: coloring plastics. The most important: network, network, network at all levels.
Q: How do you network? Do you have a strategy? Do you enjoy it?
Gomez: Networking is a science and an art. I would say that 20 years working at an international level has given me the tools to appreciate networking for what it can do to your professional and personal life. I certainly enjoy doing it, particularly with the young professionals and students. I want to hear/know about the things they believe in, what they find interesting and challenging. I want to put myself in their shoes. My strategy is simple: Listen. Smile. Empathize. Connect.
I think I am quite good at empathizing with people who find it hard to network. Human beings are by nature shy. It is hard for us to break the ice. The first minutes of a conversation with a total stranger are horrible, frustrating and agonizing for many of us. However, once you know the individual in front of you and you have found some overlapping themes, things you like, you do, you know, etc., the conversation can turn more pleasant.
Q: What are you excited about seeing or participating in?
Gomez: The technical marketing conferences. They may give us important feedback about an aspect of the new Antec.
Q: Do you do anything for fun during Antec week, or is it all work all the time?
Gomez: Not all is work. Nights are for relaxing with friends and expanding my network.