For James McGraw, the recent Annual General Meeting of the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers brought his time in the industry and with the association full circle in more than one respect.
It was in 1982 when he attended his first IISRP annual gathering in New Orleans, the same city where the group held its April 11-14 AGM. And while McGraw, who served as IISRP managing director from 1999 to 2015, often has presented the group's General Award at these sessions, this time he was the recipient of the honor.
“This is the most rewarding experience I have had in my career,” McGraw said during an emotional acceptance speech. He was nominated for the award by Hendrick Lam, senior vice president of TSRC Corp., who will serve as IISRP president for 2016-17.
McGraw started his synthetic rubber industry career at American Synthetic Rubber Corp. in 1975 as an entry level engineer, looking for a place to get some experience before moving onto a better job in another industry. “But little did I know at that time, I was already working in a great industry and one that would provide me with the opportunity to make a difference,” he said.
He spent most of his career focused on regulatory compliance, and said he was proud to lead an industry recognized as a credible source in dealing with a wide variety of agencies in the U.S. and abroad. He acknowledged getting help early on from Michael Bird and Jeff Lewis of ExxonMobil Biomedical in learning the complex science of toxicology and epidemiology.
“My representing the industry negotiating the workplace standard for butadiene exposure in the U.S. was the very first time this had ever been done,” McGraw said. “This standard remains in place today, some 20-plus years later, and became the model used in other regions.”
He left ASRC in 1997 and spent a year as deputy director at IISRP before getting the managing director slot. Early on, the group enjoyed growth in all regions, but that came to an abrupt end in 2003-04, when the SR industry suffered what McGraw called “the darkest days of our history.”
A few producers were caught engaging in price fixing, and that led to a loss of many members for the IISRP. “I was concerned that if the trend continued, the IISRP would not be able to survive,” McGraw said in his speech. “But thanks to the solid support of our more responsible members, we adapted our programs, enhanced others and regrouped to provide quality services, both to the membership and to the general public.”
He added that he was proud the IIRSP as an organization was not contacted by any antitrust authorities, as a major focal point of the institute is “that we were and continue to be recognized as managing a clean and respectable organization.”
McGraw said one of the strengths of the IISRP has been that it functions as a volunteer-based organization, with a lean staff and members providing resources to drive the agenda. That model is becoming more challenging, however, as it has become harder to staff board and committee leadership positions, meaning the staff has had to take on more responsibilities.
“We are still experiencing a lack of volunteerism, and I call upon the board of directors to support your committee representation to serve in leadership capacities,” said McGraw, who retired as managing director last July 1 and has been serving this past year as an adviser to the IISRP Executive Committee. “I know from experience it builds character, managerial skills, professional development and loyalty.”
He expects that under the leadership of new Managing Director Juan Ramon Salinas that the IISRP will continue to grow and face the challenges ahead.
“During my 40-plus years, I have one keen observation about our industry,” McGraw said. “We exhibit a "family trait' that is unparalleled in any other organization. ... It is a trait you cannot feel, touch or see, but you know it is there. Do not underestimate the power of "family.' “
He paid tribute to his wife, Pat, who has been by his side throughout his IISRP tenure, volunteering and providing unique social programs. “She has been my sounding board when I needed to bounce ideas and solicit another viewpoint,” McGraw said. “Pat is a valuable asset to the IISRP, and I am grateful for her dedication and contribution.”