David Peters' long career in the PVC market gave him the experience needed to make a tough choice last year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, Peters closed Shawnee Chemical Co.'s office in Princeton, N.J., canceled its lease there and made all of seven of the firm's employees home-based.
Since then, the firm has leased a one-room office in King of Prussia, Pa. The location is close to the home offices of some employees. Peters said the firm will use the smaller office as a conference room for company meetings and to meet with customers and suppliers.
"It's worked out well so far," he added. "People are looking forward to meeting face-to-face again."
Shawnee supplies PVC resins as well as plasticizers and other additives used in the making of PVC products to customers in the U.S. and Canada. Peters said the firm's culture "is based on openness, transparency, honesty, integrity and especially customer service. … We don't make any products; our job is to make people happy."
Peters' career dates back to the 1970s, when he worked in sales for Firestone Plastics and Occidental Chemical. He joined Shawnee in 1990, then became a minority owner of the firm before becoming majority owner in 2005.
Although he's worked for both large and small firms, Peters said that his current role as president and CEO "is certainly the most interesting." He said an early boss — a sales manager — was right when he told Peters that the two most difficult things to deal with in sales management are customer pricing and managing people — and not in that order.
When Peters became CEO of Shawnee in 2008, he said his goal was simple: to continue with the company culture that founder and retiring President and CEO Terrence Hurley had built. "Everyone was involved and worked together as a team to reach our common business goals," Peters said. "Everyone shared in the results; everyone got bonuses based on company profitability. … If one succeeded, everyone succeeded."
Peters said the best career advice he received was to build a company reputation based on honesty and integrity and to never compromise your principles for profits. "Good things happen to good people," he added.
For a new employee starting at Shawnee, Peters said he'd advise them "to enjoy what you do, and if you don't enjoy it, find something else to do. … Life is too short to spend so much of your time doing something you don't like and if possible love."
Among organizations, Peters is a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers — where he was a former board member of the Ohio Firelands division — and the Plastics Industry Association, where he's on the executive committee of the flexible vinyl products division and is a former member of the executive committee of the Material Supplier Council. Peters previously was an active member of the Vinyl Institute, where he was director of VI's Pipe Resource Organization, the Vinyl Siding Institute, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute and the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association.
Like many firms, Shawnee has learned lessons during the pandemic. "The pandemic certainly brought out in the open numerous issues that plague industry, things that were being overlooked or ignored in our quest to increase profits at whatever cost," Peters said.
"It's also shown that people can adapt and that there's not a need for big office complexes. But at the same time, we still need some amount of face-to-face time with suppliers, customers and co-workers to develop relationships and friendships so that we can all work together to accomplish our joint goals in an efficient and intelligent way."
Looking to 2022, Peters said that he's "hoping that the issues plaguing the industry — from supply problems, raw material shortages and logistics issues, both domestic and international, to name a few — start to work themselves out."
"I'm afraid that this will be an ongoing process and will take a few years," he added.
As for his legacy as CEO, Peters said that answer is simple.
"For people to know that Shawnee was a great company to work for and to do business with," he said. "Life is too short, and if we all are not working together to make everyone happy and successful, we are all failing."