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5/7/2018 | 4 MINUTE READ

As NPE2018 Opens, It’s All Systems Go for Carteaux, Industry

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony done, it was time for Bill Carteaux to start his first walk of the NPE show floor. A colleague at his side, he weaved his way through a scattering of exhibitors running late, scrambling to get to their booths, like schoolkids who got up too late racing for the bus. He’s smiling broadly, shaking hands. He has what you might call a confident walk—not a strut or a swagger—making him appear taller than he is. A lot has to do with his posture, back straight, shoulders thrust back, head up and eyes forward. 

Now maybe 100 feet from the show entrance, he encountered an exhibitor known for his good-natured ribbing of the trade association executive. “Good to see you smiling Bill,” this particular exhibitor wisecracked. Carteaux, the president and CEO of what was then the Society of the Plastics Industry, didn’t miss a beat in his reply, “It’s the NPE show, buddy. Not a pity party. Nothing but smiles all week.”

Except it was NPE2009, the last show in Chicago, held as the economy was circling the drain, the plastics market contracting and—in the months preceding the June show in McCormick Place—a number of desperate exhibitors, with the order pipeline empty, trying to scale back or even cancel their plans to display.

Carteaux now runs the same organization as president and CEO, now called the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS). Except that his roots are not those of what might be considered a Washington, D.C. insider, or a “trade association guy.” Before he took the association’s top spot in 2005, he was “an industry guy,” specifically a top executive with injection molding machine builders Demag Plastics Group and before that Autojectors.

He says, “I had this routine I started at Demag. Every day before quitting time I’d walk around the sales, service and spare parts departments and ask, ‘So what did you sell today?’ In the months before NPE2009, I knew I had some selling of my own to do.” He and his colleagues developed a rebate program that encouraged exhibitors to stay with their original display plans. He spent months on airplanes changing the minds of suppliers who had decided to pull out. The most notable of these was a trip to Japan to visit Nissei, which had made public their plans to withdraw from the show. Carteaux convinced executives there to change their minds. “My pitch to them was this: ‘People will come to the show.’ It wasn’t easy. In the first six months of 2009 the Japanese injection machinery market had collapsed by 80%. But they came to the show and even sold machines.”

The rebate program may not have been what was best for the association’s balance sheet, but it was what the industry needed at the time. “One of my very first jobs was working for Chester (Chet) Dekko at Group Dekko,” an Indiana-based company that makes products for power and data and lighting. “Chet taught me you have to precisely identify a problem before you can solve. Heading toward NPE2009, the problem was that nobody had any cash. The rebate program was the solution.”

“I had no doubt in my mind whatsoever that we could save the show,” Carteaux continues. “The industry needed a cheerleader, and I was fine taking that role. I had no question we’d have a good show, and I think it turned out a lot better than what most people expected.”

Today, as the doors swing open at the Orange County Convention Center for the record-breaking NPE2018, attendees will see first-hand testament of a resilient industry that is firing on all cylinders. And if you get a glimpse of a nattily dressed guy zipping around on a Segway with a smile on his face, well, you’ve met Bill Carteaux. Still cheerleading for the industry. Still brimming with energy, unbridled enthusiasm and confidence. Ever the positive spirit. A spirit that he has now directed to fight an enemy more potent than the economic downturn of 10 years ago: Cancer.

In 2016, Carteaux was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He got the diagnosis following blood-work that was conducted after he contracted dengue fever following a business trip to Cuba. Months of aggressive treatment knocked the disease into remission, only to have it return July 2017. “Hearing ‘you have cancer’ is bad, but hearing ‘it’s back’ is even worse. It hit me hard.” More months of a chemotherapy cocktail followed, this time with a bone-marrow transplant—two units of umbilical cord blood. Through it all, Carteaux was, well, Carteaux. 

“I’m a positive person. I have found in my life that it’s actually easier to be positive than negative. The first time, my oncologist and one of my nurses told me my attitude was 70% responsible for my remission. I wasn’t about to change. When people get this kind of news, the tendency is for them to think ‘Why me?’ That’s perfectly natural. But my attitude was ‘Why not me?”

During a 44-day hospital stay, Carteaux worked regularly, and made friends and offered words of encouragement to fellow patients. He was also crushed when he saw a woman he befriended with the same disease die. But he remained positive, told jokes, played pranks, and only walked out of the hospital “after hugging every doctor, nurse, director and technician involved in his treatment,” he said. He also spent time researching his illness and getting involved in fund-raising. He was corporate chair of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s 2017 Capital Area Light the Night event, and has raised more than $400,000 on their behalf. 

Today, in remission again, 58-year-old Bill Carteaux cut the ribbon to open NPE2018. It’s a record-breaking tradeshow. It’s also proof of the power of positive thinking, of resiliency, not only for the industry as a whole, but for a guy who’s been its head cheerleader for more than 13 years.


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