I disagree with Chuck Chaffee, CEO of BRC Rubber & Plastics Inc., whom the editors of Rubber & Plastics News chose as the Rubber Industry Executive of the Year.
This is slightly remarkable because he's always been one of my favorite rubber industry personalities since I met him years ago at a Rubber Manufacturers Association meeting. I see eye to eye with him on many issues.
Read about Chaffee in the page 1 story and sidebar in this issue, and you're likely to come to the same conclusion I have: He's the kind of guy you'd want to work with, a good representative of the rubber industry.
Chuck always struck me as being very honest, a man without “spin.” He's CEO of a traditional rubber processing company, but the business is anything but staid. BRC changes with the times, always has.
He also shows his intelligence by being frugal, and surrounding himself with some pretty sharp people, including his brother, Cliff, other family members and top-flight executives like Mike Meyer and Greg Finch.
And now to the disagreement. It concerns the Rubber Industry Buyers Association, a cooperative of several similar rubber processors, of which BRC was a founding member and the driving force. The idea behind RIBA was strength in numbers. Volume is everything when it comes to procurement, and if several rubber processors could order as a block, they should be able to get a better price.
The medical and boating industries had gone the consortium route, with success, so why not rubber?
Started in 2000, RIBA didn't make it through the decade. Chuck said RIBA was ahead of its time. I, however, believe RIBA just exposed a significant trait of the rubber industry. Cooperation isn't the norm in this business.
I'm generalizing, but the rubber industry is full of companies and people who are way too competitive. Competition should be a key to advancing the industry in its science and products, but the overcompetitive nature of the rubber industry results in cutthroat pricing, which benefits no one.
Rather than working together, in a legal fashion, to get a better price, rubber processors, worried about giving away a competitive advantage, rarely cooperate. This is one of the reasons the ACS Rubber Division, the best example of cooperation in the industry, has far fewer members than it should have. Same thing, more or less, with the Rubber Manufacturers Association.
Only rarely has the rubber industry really pulled together on an issue. It took World War II and the Japanese seizure of the natural rubber plantations of Southeast Asia for the industry to work as one to find a substitute for NR. Relaxation of antitrust laws certainly helped.
Usually, it's a “do it alone” industry, especially among the smaller manufacturers. Even when doing it together can be beneficial.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.