The Plastics Industry Association was in a rough spot with the March 25 departure of CEO Tony Radoszewski. But by acting quickly and promoting Matt Seaholm and Glenn Anderson to top posts, the Washington-based trade association has an opportunity to get back on course.
Plenty of challenges remain. Seaholm, the new CEO, and Anderson, the chief operating officer, need to rebuild a team that's had too much turnover. They need to ensure that the association recovers from the missed NPE2021, which was canceled because of COVID, and put in the advance work to make sure the 2024 show is a big success.
And they need to find the right balance between defending the industry and working to ensure that plastics are a sustainable part of a more circular economy. Because that's what investors, brand owners and consumers want.
Many U.S. industry leaders tend to want someone with plastics experience to lead the association. But when it comes to dealing with D.C. decision-makers and other industry allies, there's also an obvious need for the political skills that come from trade association executives.
Radoszewski, whose tenure started in September 2019, appeared at first to be uniquely qualified for the job. He was coming off a 40-year career in plastics, including stints at Phillips Chemical Co., Advanced Drainage Systems Inc. and 13 years heading the Irving, Texas-based Plastics Pipe Institute.
He joined the association just weeks after Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. left the group, citing the association's strategy of lobbying for state laws that preempted local bans on plastic bags.
Radoszewski seemed primed to represent and defend plastics. But his momentum fizzled, bedeviled by restructuring, staff turnover and a pandemic. Not to mention indifference: The global plastics industry was too busy staying open, keeping workers safe and dealing with supply chain chaos to worry about leadership issues at the Plastics Industry Association.
Now there's an opportunity to get back on track. This transition reminds me of when longtime association President Larry Thomas stepped down in 1999 after a contentious and ultimately failed attempt to merge with the American Plastics Council. The association, then known as the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., was bleeding membership and clout.
At the time, I argued that SPI needed an energetic, inspirational leader that the industry could rally around. That eventually did happen, but not until six years later, when 45-year-old Bill Carteaux was named president. (And that's not to imply that there was anything wrong with Don Duncan, who held the job in the years between Thomas and Carteaux. Duncan brought stability to the association, even though the effort to merge with APC, which would have given the group a lot more influence in Washington, did fail.)
In 2005, Carteaux was young, intense and passionate about the industry. He is remembered fondly for leading the association through the Great Recession, and then moving the NPE show to Orlando, Fla., after a streak of 14 straight shows in Chicago.
Can the association's new leaders duplicate Carteaux's success? In Seaholm and Anderson, the group may have found the right combination of political and industry experience.
Seaholm has been the association's vice president of government affairs for the past two years and prior to that was the executive director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance (yes, the group that was pushing for preemption legislation that drove Coke and Pepsi away from the association — the irony is not lost on us).
Anderson joined the association in 2020 after a nearly 40-year career in plastics, mostly at U.S.-based machinery maker Milacron. While at Milacron, he was also chairman of the 2018 NPE.
But they have a lot of work to do: rebuild the association's staff, come up with a growth strategy so it can represent a much larger share of the plastics industry and communicate an enlightened strategy to highlight where plastics fit in the sustainable economy.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.