HOUSTON—James McGraw is in the twilight of a 40-plus year career in the synthetic rubber industry, and he has seen much change in that time.
He joined Michelin's American Synthetic Rubber Co. in 1975 and remained with the company until 1997, when he became deputy director of the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers. He took over as the association's managing director two years later, a post he retired from July 1, and he is now helping to train his successor and serving a one-year stint as adviser to the Executive Committee.
McGraw has seen much rationalization and consolidation in the SR industry, along with a significant shift of capacity to Asia. Membership in the institute used to be split fairly even between the Americas, Asia and the Europe, Middle East and Africa section, he said, but Asia now probably accounts for 45 percent of members.
He will continue to manage two projects he has been intimately involved with that are ending. One is putting together the proceedings from a health and safety meeting on major monomers that the IISRP co-sponsored with the American Chemistry Council's Olefins unit.
The other is an epidemiology research report that has been ongoing since the late 1970s in conjunction with the University of Alabama on SBR workers in North America. “We're now nearing the end of that where the manuscripts are being prepared,” McGraw said. “I'll still be managing that activity because if you've never had the exposure to this kind of research, it's hard to get up to speed quickly, and that will be phasing itself out in the next few months.”
One accomplishment he is most proud of during his tenure was greatly improving the association's efficiency. When he came on board, he observed that too many errors were being made. He said he implemented a simple quality control process and also discovered that too many people were involved in the planning of each individual activity.
“Once we developed some accountability, our error rate went way down, and our efficiency went way up,” he said.
Feedback from members led to development of an improved website and the forging of a strategic alliance with the China Rubber Industry Association to gather more accurate statistical data on the SR industry in China.
One of his regrets was not being able to re-recruit Lanxess A.G. as a member of the association. The German company and others pulled out in 2003 when the SR industry was hit by a price fixing scandal.
“It was a difficult time for the industry,” McGraw said. “We lost a lot of members. It was bad for the industry as a whole because of what a few companies did.”
He added that none of those members have returned to the IISRP fold.
McGraw has one bit of advice for his successor, Juan Ramon Salinas: “You've got to stay close to the membership. That's the lifeblood of the organization.”