Bill Dickinson's journey through the plastics world has taken him from material development to the early days of resin distribution and back again.
Dickinson, 78, is president and CEO of Plastic Selection Group, a research and development firm in Columbus, Ohio. He founded PSG in 1992 — at a point when he had already been in the industry for almost 25 years.
"Our company is very much a family, working with a small and close-knit team of people to provide the best service possible to our customers around the globe," he said. "We form close and long-lasting relationships with our customers and suppliers, and we place a lot of value on good communication, hard work and innovation."
PSG makes formulations for water-clear plastics based on a variety of resins. Those materials are then toll-produced for PSG. Dickinson said PSG's materials "fill the gap between brittle clears and engineered clears." The firm also recently developed Ketek, a green engineering terpolymer made from carbon monoxide and olefins.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Dickinson — a native of Bexley, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio University — got his plastics start at Marbon Chemical, a materials maker based in Parkersburg, W.Va.
At Marbon, Dickinson became marketing manager for major appliances, injection molders and OEMs. He also helped formulate new polymer grades, including an ABS/PVC alloy.
Marbon's ABS product line was eventually purchased by BorgWarner Inc., an industrial firm with a large chemicals division. Dickinson then helped Borg-Warner in the late 1960s and early 1970s set up a global resin distribution network. This business became Plastic Service Centers, one of the earliest resin distributors.
"Distribution was a new idea at that time, and I helped to solidify distribution and distribution companies as an important aspect of the plastics industry during a time of rapid growth and change," Dickinson said. "We set up new companies in the U.S., in France, in the U.K., all over the world, and I saw many of those rapid changes firsthand as our work and others' began to shape the way marketing worked within the industry.
"It gave me a global perspective and furthered my interest in developing things that were different, useful and new," he said.
BorgWarner eventually sold its materials unit to GE Plastics, which today is part of Saudi Basic Industries Corp. The Plastic Service Centers business became Polymerland.
Dickinson moved on from BorgWarner in the late 1970s to help found America-Venezuela Industries, a distribution firm that later was bought by Ashland Chemical and today is part of industry giant PolyOne Corp.
Dickinson stayed at Ashland after the AVI deal until 1992, when he launched PSG.
"I wanted to take my distribution and development knowledge and keep reaching for innovation, keep developing something new, and so I founded [PSG]" he said. PSG "was created to fill a gap in the market, finding the balance between developing products according to customer specification and finding customers who can benefit from our knowledge and products," Dickinson added.
Dickinson identified BorgWarner executive Stu MacDougal as his first mentor and trainer in the plastics industry.
"He taught me how to be a successful marketer and salesperson," Dickinson said. "In my first year with BorgWarner, I captured a million-pound account with a company making barbed wire. It was a huge success early in my career, and Stu helped me start what would be a 50-plus-year career in the plastics industry."
When Dickinson started PSG, he had modest goals. "I never wanted 'president' to be the first thing people see on my business card. My card doesn't even have a title on it, so people don't ask why the president of the company is still out talking to customers," he said.
"PSG was founded on the idea of developing something new. Nearly a quarter of a century later, I'm still the president, and we're still looking for new ways to approach the market, new resins to develop, new industry needs we can fulfill."
According to Dickinson, the best career advice he's received was to "establish yourself as someone who helps people solve their problems, someone who helps fulfill the needs of the marketplace."
"Keep your eyes and ears open, ask questions, and you'll always find a gap that needs filled," he added. "Find yourself the tools and the resources to fill that niche, and keep looking for other niches and gaps, and you'll never be bored."
To new employees at his firm, Dickinson said he'd tell them that "there are lots of opportunities in plastics."
"Figure out where your interests and skills match up and work your way in that direction. You should be given the opportunity to train to the job — if not formally, then by osmosis, everyone learning together.
"The plastics industry is constantly changing, and you can always find the need for something new."