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SPE's next president not shying away from international growth


As the U.S.-based Society of Plastics Engineers looks to refocus itself on North America, the incoming president, Raed Alzubi of Saudi Arabia, wants to also make sure the organization does not shy away from internationalization.

"SPE enjoys a premium reputation and name recognition around the world," said Alzubi, 47.

SPE can bring together industrialists in the Middle East as the region continues important work to diversify beyond just the oil economy, said Alzubi, who is president of SPE's Middle East Section. He will take the reins during the group's technical conference, Antec 2017, in May.

SPE held its first Antec conference in Dubai in 2014. Last year, the society worked with the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association to merge GPCA's PlastiCon conference together with SPE's Antec into a single event.

And Alzubi said that, on an international level, SPE partnerships with local trade associations will continue.

But as SPE continues its search for a new CEO - the full time, salaried head of the group, as opposed to its voluntary president position that Alzubi is taking over - it is refocusing on its U.S. core.

The current CEO, Willem De Vos, a Belgian who is returning to industry after five years at the top job, is stepping down.

De Vos, who was based in Europe, was hired in 2012 to make SPE more international, and the group did launch some events in China and India. But building a base of members outside North America proved more challenging than group thought.

When he announced he was leaving, De Vos said he thought the next CEO should be focused on North America, noting that two-thirds of SPE members are in the United States.

So it's interesting timing that, at Antec 2017, an industry leader from the Middle East is becoming the SPE president.

"We will always be a U.S.-centric organization," Alzubi said.

The United States is a leader for plastics and composites, he said, so, "it's important for us to continue to shore up our core strengths, which is the U.S., and at the same time, not shying away from internationalization. It's not a step back. It's time to kind of re-strengthen your core so you can grow."

Alzubi got an undergrad degree at the University of Jordan in his native country. He earned master's and doctoral degrees at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. His mentor: Brent Strong, the SPE activist and an expert in composites, thermoforming and product design.

Alzubi's first job was a mechanical design engineer at OEC Medical Systems, bought by General Electric Co. He worked in the United States.

Since then he has worked on some other projects, but Alzubi plans to devote the next year to SPE.

He has technical desires, to be sure. The industry's greatest challenges? Environmental impact. But the solution lies with technology, by "reaching limits of what the polymer chain can deliver in terms of properties and performance," he said.

Alzubi said, however, that people are the biggest issue.

"The need for qualified talent is worldwide. The Middle East is no exception. You see it in several fronts" and a big one, he said, is "qualified entry-level positions," jobs where a person needs skills of processing and the types of plastics. Another difficult area is getting qualified local talent.

"The Gulf in particular has invested in schools, technical centers, but it remains a challenge," he said.

And the Middle East still plays in a global economy. For proof, Google: "Fracking, impact of..."

And so Alzubi said the region has to move to "competitiveness" and even get to a competitive advantage. The Middle East is still working on this, he said.

He is optimistic about plastics, since there are still major parts of the world where plastics consumption is still low. And plastics innovations, as well as composites expertise, are mandatory for the coming driverless vehicles and electric ones, he said.

"We're heading to intelligent products," Alzubi said. "So we're talking about more and more intelligence into the human interaction of the 'internet of things.' Plastics continues to be a versatile material that will allow designers and creative people to be able to present these innovations.

"Plastics will remain a strong medium and a flexible and versatile medium to develop this kind of device between the human and the device interaction," he said.

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