Bill Carteaux left lasting legacy on plastics industry

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Rich Williams, Plastics News Bill's energy was obvious, even to those who barely knew him. He was not only willing, he was eager to be a strong voice for plastics. Bill was a cheerleader for plastics.

The loss of Bill Carteaux leaves a hole in the global plastics industry. He left his mark on three of the industry’s most important institutions: the Plastics Industry Association, the NPE trade show and the Plastics Hall of Fame.

But that’s not all. Bill’s energy was obvious, even to those who barely knew him. He was not only willing, he was eager to be a strong voice for plastics. Bill was a cheerleader for plastics.

He came to Washington after a long and successful career in plastics machinery. He personally knew almost everyone in the industry before he joined what was then called the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Bill had the perspective of a plastics industry manager and he had resin running through his veins.

SPI wasn’t in great shape when Bill came on board, and it wasn’t unusual to hear people speculating that maybe the plastics industry didn’t need a trade association based in D.C. But Bill knew that SPI did a lot of important work in Washington, and he worked to keep up SPI’s broad advocacy on behalf of the entire industry, not just a few sectors willing to pay most of the membership dues. Bill and his staff worked tirelessly for plastics and to recruit new members, including brand owners.

Bill wasn’t satisfied with just keeping SPI alive. He took the big step of rebranding the institution because he knew the name — Society of the Plastics Industry — was confusing to the broad audience, both inside and outside the industry.

Bill said: “When I go to Capitol Hill, we’re known on the Hill as plastics. I don’t say I’m with SPI. I say I’m with plastics.” So he renamed SPI the Plastics Industry Association, and the group refers to itself now as PLASTICS, in all capital letters.

And I know that somewhere Bill is smiling because I actually wrote it the way he likes it. (That’s an inside joke for you, Bill.)

Bill’s industry background helped him convince companies to stay in NPE in 2009, when it was the association’s bad luck that its major trade show and biggest source of revenue coincided with the worst U.S. economic crisis in 70 years. Saving NPE was essential to saving SPI.

Critics of plastics exaggerate the lobbying power of the Plastics Industry Association. It’s not “Big Plastics.” It’s not a beltway powerhouse like homebuilders, Realtors, trial lawyers or the auto industry. But Bill helped the association make the most of the leverage that it does possess. He reminded everyone, all the time, how many people it employs. I can hear him saying it’s the “third-largest U.S. manufacturing sector,” because he found a way to work that into every speech.

Bill headed the Council of Manufacturing Associations, and he played a key role in forming global and regional plastics association groups like the North American Plastics Alliance. He knew how to work with other people, and under his leadership SPI took a leading role in an annual Plastics Industry Fly-In, which brings members from a wide variety of plastics trade groups to Washington to meet with legislators.

I should mention, too, that the Plastics Industry Association won a Best Places to Work award under Bill’s leadership. In his early years in Washington, he may have earned a reputation as a tough guy to work for, but now the association is running smoothly, even though he missed a lot of the past two years when he was in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy.

Bill was a loyal friend to many, and several generations of plastics industry leaders count him as their mentor. That includes many young people in the association’s Future Leaders in Plastics group. Bill won’t be forgotten for a long time.

A generation ago, Bill Cruse was dubbed “Mr. Plastics,” and he certainly earned the honor. He was the first full-time head of SPI, and he was credited with founding the National Plastics Exposition, or NPE. But I doubt that many people younger than 65 have even heard Cruse’s name. Bill Carteaux has been “Mr. Plastics” for the current generation. The industry will miss him and will be well-served to follow his example and continue to build on the foundation that he left behind.