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Clare Goldsberry

A uniquely Clare view of plastics

PlasticsToday turns the tables to interview our own editors in a new series starting with veteran industry reporter and unabashed pro-plastic enthusiast Clare Goldsberry who talks about writing, reporting, plastics, manufacturing and more.

An avid and award-winning photographer, senior editor Clare Goldsberry is better known to readers as a long-time plastics industry reporter, and by her own estimate has written 10,000 articles over the past 30 years. Add to this comprehensive and perhaps unmatched portfolio the fact that she’s also literally written the books on the business and you have an expert industry insider who has had a front seat in plastics’ past and present. And, if you don’t know it already, Clare is openly opinionated.

Thus PlasticsToday felt it was fitting to kick off a new looking-inward-and-outward series with the editorial staff with the fascinating Ms. Goldsberry that we hope that you find as edutaining as did this reporter.

Let’s start at the beginning: Where does your interest and passion for writing originate? And what about for plastics?

Goldsberry: When have I not been interested in and passionate about writing? I was born with the passion for writing. I was called to be a writer at the age of 10 while sitting in my “thinking tree”—a huge, white-barked Sycamore tree by the creek that ran through our farm pondering what I would be when I grew up.

My inner voice told me, “You’re going to be a writer, Clare.” That was the first time this “voice” spoke to me, but it would not be the last. I have written all my life, filling dozens of notebooks with my thoughts in essays and opinions. I learned that I had a gift, a true talent.

As one Arizona State University (ASU) college professor told me each time I would turn in an article for the journalism class he taught, “You have the gift, Clare. There’s really nothing I can teach you.” And so I accepted that I have the gift that I’d pursued all my life beginning very early on in my childhood.

As for plastics, I’ve always loved manufacturing,. That came from watching my dad, who was a tool and die maker for GE, make beautiful things in his woodworking shop. He loved machines and working with his hands. On weekends he’d work in the woodworking shop he’d set up in a renovated barn on our farm.

Tell us more about your educational background.

Goldsberry: I began attending college at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, in 1979. After moving to Arizona in 1981, I began attending ASU in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. I became so enamored with learning so many different things and taking classes just because they sounded interesting, that I graduated in 1991 with a BA in journalism and a double minor in marketing management and public relations. However, with 150 credit hours behind me, my eclectic studies gave me the most wonderful variety of learning, and I graduated with honors.

It’s apparent that fundamental to your articles is that they be based on scientifically sound information. How did this come about?

Goldsberry: Plastics is a scientific business and relies on science to enable the materials to be developed and perform the way they do in all the various applications from toys to medical to automotive, electrical, aircraft and more. I love science and it’s absolutely necessary if we are to maintain plastics as a viable material and enjoy its many benefits. I believe it is the only way to fight the hype of plastic haters. Science should win out—whether it will or not is still a question. Many people do not understand science nor accept science, probably because there are too many “alternative facts” to almost every question. But I keep trying.

What can you say about your time with PlasticsToday’s legacy publication, Modern Plastics?

Goldsberry: I believe Modern Plastics was purchased by Canon from its original owner and was likely the oldest plastics technical trade publication in the world. I remember trying to read Modern Plastics when I first started with Tech Plastics back in the early 1980s, but it was extremely technical, written for scientists and engineers in the industry, full of chemical symbols, diagrams of polymer chains, etc. It wasn’t readable by the general plastics person but it wasn’t meant to be.

When Modern Plastics became part of the IMM family, I was asked to help them “revise” the publication to make it accessible to the general plastics industry worker, including business aspects of plastics processing—Modern covered all processes except injection molding, as that was left for IMM. I'm not sure that ever really worked; the industry was used to the traditional Modern Plastics and the new version never really caught on. Maybe I’m wrong as I was not an employee and was not privy to the financials of the publications.

I think what made both IMM and me so successful was that I tackled the business aspects of molding and moldmaking, an approach that was lacking in the industry at that time.

I used to say that these molders and moldmakers were great at making molds and molding parts, but were terrible business people. So I made it my mission to write books to help them.

Through Abby, I first wrote The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder. After Suzy Witzler gave me the okay, I pounded that book out in a month, and it was a big hit. Abby sold many books at NPE and other trade shows, but mine was a big seller because I spoke their language, knew the business from the inside out, and offered them sound, real-world advice.

Next came my three-book series: Marketing Strategies for Molders and Mold Makers; Marketing Communication Strategies for Molders and Mold Makers; and Sales Strategies for Molders and Mold Makers. They came out as a set to be read in that order. I still have a few of those books around and now and then I still get calls for them, which I send out for free.

Next was a book to help purchasing agents understand molds and molding: Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide to help professional purchasing people deal with moldmakers and answer their questions about why molds cost so darn much! All of my books sold extremely well. I did a lot of book signings at the various trade shows, especially NPE. I hope that my insights helped molders and moldmakers and others do a better job so that business is easier for everyone.

[Note: Some of her books can be found at Amazon at this link].

I’ve also worked with molders and moldmakers on their marketing and sales strategies with a three-day visit to their plants, interviewing employees, surveying customers, reviewing their marketing communications materials etc., then devising a marketing plan to help them grow their business. I also put together my “1-Day Marketing Makeover”—fly in one day, spend one day at the plant and out by day’s end—to provide my observations, evaluations, etc. about where they could improve their marketing and sales and business development efforts. I believe it’s helped many of them understand how to be better business people and learn to promote themselves—something they’ve always had trouble doing. Too many like to “fly under the radar” (see my blog Flying Under the Radar is NOT a Business Strategy, published July 2015).

Tell us a little about the Plastics Pioneers Association.

Goldsberry: Well, the PPA is a great organization and I love being around those who’ve spent much more time in the industry than I have. They are a wealth of information and I love picking their brains about materials, processes and innovations of which many have been a part all their lives.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the plastics business?

Goldsberry: I’ve seen how small, family-owned molding and moldmaking companies have evolved into larger, well-run businesses. Some have grown into very large businesses and then been acquired by even bigger companies. I hope I’ve been a part of that—helping them do business better so that they were able to grow their companies into attractive acquisitions for bigger companies. It’s still difficult for very small companies to make it—the Goliaths (GM, Ford, 3M, Whirlpool, etc.) still make life difficult for the Davids of the industry. That’s why these smaller companies had to grow! It was grow or be killed! Many were killed by the big OEMs—so many are absolutely ruthless in their dealings with these guys—another reason I wrote the books! To help them stand up to these Goliaths!

Next: Being a woman in plastics plus industry insights

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What was it like working in the plastics industry as a woman?

Goldsberry: It wasn’t always easy, especially wanting to work in sales. Actually, one company wouldn’t let me go into sales. I was told by the sales manager that women were good at selling dresses and makeup, but not injection molding or tooling. But soon after I went to the owners of a moldmaking company that had three injection molding machines. I told these two guys that I was good in sales and marketing, and I could help them grow their business. I’ve never met a stranger and I love people, which made me good in sales. They figured that because I’d worked at that other company that I must know a lot so they hired me.

I developed my own pay plan: $20,000/year base salary; 3% commission on mold builds and 5% commission on molded parts. The commission on molded parts would last for 18 months or the life of the program, then it would revert to a “house account”, but only the program would revert, not the customer. The customer I would keep and continue to work with to get more business. They thought they’d made a cheap deal. But I know that a good sales person can double or triple their base salary if they were a go-getter, which I was.

I had customers throughout the Western U.S. including Compaq Computer, HP in San Diego and Boise, Keytronic, big medical companies like Ivac, Imed, Abbott Labs, Utah Medical, and even one or two jobs from Becton Dickinson’s Utah plant. I was extremely successful and more than doubled my salary with commissions in the first year. After four years, we’d tripled the number of presses in the plant to nine, and going great guns, and my commissions were nearly triple my base salary. I dealt primarily with men at all of my customers, but having grown up with a tool and die-maker father and two brothers, I knew how men thought and I knew how to deal with them. One even told me that he found me more trustworthy than some of these fast-talking sales guys that called on them. “If you don’t know something, you admit it and will find me the answer,” one customer told me. “I like your honesty and straight-forwardness.” I was always learning, always asking questions, and always working closely with the customers.

Let’s tap your expertise from your front-row seat in plastics for some insights: how do you feel about the current state of the plastics industry?

Goldsberry: The current state of the industry is in fairly good shape, but the looming danger is from the problems I addressed in #10. If the industry doesn’t watch out, it’s going to be in big trouble! I don’t think the industry does enough to combat the hype and hundreds of articles that feed consumers misinformation and uses scare tactics to try and destroy the industry. I know Bill Carteaux, president of the Plastics Industry Assn. would disagree with me—he says they try to do a lot in the way of consumer information, but it’s not enough. Carteaux needs to be at these shareholder meetings sitting alongside activists from As You Sow, Healthy Families and Safer Chemicals. Present some shareholder proposals of the PIA’s making!

What’s the biggest misunderstanding that the public has about plastics?

Goldsberry: That plastics are toxic and cause all kinds of cancers, endocrine disorders, etc. They even believe that the chemicals in plastics like phthalates and BPA, etc. rub off when you handle it. Science skeptics who believe the hype from advocacy groups who want to rid the world of plastic and go back to glass, metal and paper are seriously misinformed.

About how many (plastic) articles do you think you’ve written in your career?

Goldsberry: I’ve probably written 10,000 plastics articles over the past 30 years, some of them humor pieces—yes, even the plastics industry can be funny!—that I wrote for Plastics News. I started freelancing for them in August of 1989, a few months after that publication was founded, and stayed with them until 1995 when I met with Suzy Witzler, one of the owners of Injection Molding Magazine, about freelancing for them. I had a number of books in my head that I just had to write, and they published books through Abby, their publishing arm. Plastics News wasn’t interested in publishing books so I went with Injection Molding Magazine.

Many of my long-time industry friends still remember my “booth bimbo” editorial chiding industrial companies for using scantily-clad women to sell equipment to men at NPE. Oddly enough, except for the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas every January, the booth bimbo as a selling tool has gradually disappeared from trade shows in the U.S.

To what do you attribute your remarkably lengthy career?

Goldsberry: My love for manufacturing, the plastics industry and the people in this industry, many of whom have become good, long-time friends. I have earned the trust of the people I’ve worked with and the trust of the people I’ve interviewed—even people like Jon Huntsman Sr., with whom I developed a good relationship.

If people say something is “off the record” it’s off the record. I believe that accuracy in what I write is critical and, except for an occasional typo, I try to maintain a good record for being accurate in my reporting.

 I think people appreciate that as they trust me with their words. And I think I’m a good writer. The editor of one other publication for which I write now and then told me one time that having a freelancer who can spell and know grammar, and can be creative is a rare commodity. He said the crap that comes across his desk from people who want to write for him is amazing. I believe it.

As an aside, I taught the Journalism Lab Classes as a Professor’s Assistant in my senior year at ASU in 1990-1991 when I was 43 and I was absolutely stunned that these young people couldn’t spell, couldn’t turn a phrase, didn’t understand sentence structure—they probably never diagramed a sentence in 6th-grade English class!

Teaching them how contractions are used, etc., and the difference between “they’re” and “there” and “their” and many others was itself a near-full-time job. It was the same way when I began teaching English 102 at a local community college as a way to give back and help young students.

Giving back is why I have longevity in this business.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Goldsberry: That came from the movie Throw Momma from the Train, in which the writing workshop class teacher played by Billy Crystal, told student and aspiring writer Owen (Danny DiVito) that “A writer writes always!”  

I’ve told many of my students in the Journalism and English classes that I’ve taught that very thing, especially young people who say they want to be writers.

If you want to be a writer—a real writer—you will write every day! Even when I’m on vacation and swear off of computer keyboards, I carry a notebook and pen, and write every day.

Next: A memorable interview, role model and legacy

Do you have a moment or an article that you are especially proud of?

Goldsberry:  I’m actually proud of them all! Especially my feature articles over the years and my blogs that I write today. I guess some of my favorites would include my interview with Jon Huntsman Sr. at his office in Salt Lake City back in 1993. For two hours we talked and discussed the industry. We talked about McDonald’s tossing the EPS clamshell in favor of paper (which is whitened with chlorine bleach!). At the end of the interview, he gave me two tickets to the front row, center court to see the Utah Jazz play the Charlotte Hornets. I had my 16-year-old son with me so we had a mini-vacation on that trip.

It was a great article about a great man! My big question: How did you become a billionaire? “Well, Clare,” he said as he pondered that question, “how does the son of school teacher in Blackfoot, Idaho, get to be a billionaire?” He ultimately believed that it was a combination of being innovative (EPS egg carton invention that also resulted in the McDonald’s EPS clamshell container), perseverance, being willing to take risks, and when you fail, start again. A dash of luck is also a component, he agreed.

I also loved the large profile article I did for Plastics News on the three men who innovated plastics in medical devices beginning in 1957:  James LeVoy Sorenson, Victor Cartwright and Dale H. Ballard, all of who founded their own medical device companies in the Salt Lake City area and are credited with creating applications for plastics in medical devices. They were partners and collaborators, and the most amazing men I’ve ever interviewed. I spent three days in Salt Lake, and even drove to Provo to interview Cartwright as he was retired there. I think that was about 1993 or so.

My business articles were important to me as well and I’m proud of them. One article I did for Plastics News involved “When to Shut Off the Presses”—encouraging molders NOT to keep running parts for a customer who wasn’t paying for the parts they already received! This was a big problem for many molders – their excuse was “my customer might move the molds if I shut off the press.” Okay, well that’s good, let them move the molds, let them put your competitor out of business! What good is it to waste time and energy and labor making parts for someone who doesn’t pay?

The moldmakers in the state of Michigan got the Mold Lien Law passed to put the kibosh on these big automotive OEMs who wouldn’t pay for parts. The big OEMs were livid over that one, because it no longer gave them the upper hand – I wrote a lot about that for IMM and the plight of many smaller molders who’d been put out of business by the likes of GM (the worst one of the bunch).

Who’s your role model?

Goldsberry: I can’t say that I have one true role model—I just sort of flew by the seat of my pants doing what worked. I had a lot of encouragement along the way including an English professor at Weber State University in Ogden, UT, where I took my first college class at age 31, English 101. I was a bit nervous, and thought that all these younger people would be so much smarter than I was.

But I figured English was a piece of cake as I’d been writing my whole life and had filled notebooks full of opinions and essays. I was always trying to hone my writing with the idea that someday I’d start selling my work. The first assignment from the professor was to write an impromptu essay of around 500 words on anything of our choice. He wanted to see where we were as far as our writing ability was concerned. He warned us that he never “gives an A on a first essay” because nobody is that good, so even though I thought I was a pretty good writer I had no expectations.

One of my mantras: Expect nothing, you’ll never be disappointed.

I chose to write about an experience of flying into tornado-producing weather over Nebraska on our way to Utah in a single-engine airplane with my then-husband, Dee who was an excellent pilot. We had to circle down through nearly 6,000 ft of solid cloud cover amid tornado warnings coming across our radio. I was the lookout, and was to yell when I saw the ground. We broke out the clouds at 500 feet above ground level (AGL), which was close, to say the least! It was hairy, but we skittered into Omaha’s airport!

The following week as I sat in the class, the professor began class by telling us that while he’d said he never gives an “A” on a first essay, there was one that was so outstanding that he had to give it an “A.” Wishing fervently that it was my essay, he then said, “I’m going to read this essay to you so that you can hear what good writing sounds like.” He then began to read my essay! I was so excited, and yet so embarrassed, that the professor thought so much of my writing.

Afterward he asked me to stay and talk with him. “You’re a good writer, Clare,” he told me. “You should sell this stuff!” That was all it took and I began writing humor pieces and essays and sending them to the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News and they paid me for them, wow, what a great start to my freelancing career! So I guess you could say that Professor Pederson was my hero!

Do you have a favorite business travel experience?

Goldsberry:  I’ve had so many wonderful business travel experiences. I loved going into a town a couple of days early when I had a marketing/sales strategy program to develop for a molder or mold maker, and tour around to see things I’d not seen before. One of those places was a molder near Cape Canaveral, FL, just across the Indian River from the rocket launch site. I spent a whole day hiking through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and visiting the Canaveral Seashore, where I put my toes into the warm Atlantic Ocean (very different from the icy cold Pacific) for the first time; the NASA space museum, and even went to Coco Beach—it was April and there were still lots of spring breakers having wet T-shirt contests, etc.—and I ate some really good Cuban food!

I spent the next 3 days helping a molder with huge business problems and even bigger family problems! That one was a serious challenge, but he took the advice I gave him about the family situation and it all worked out. Sometimes these guys just needed some outside observer to evaluate the situation.

What would you like your legacy to be with readers?

Goldsberry: That my passion for the industry and for manufacturing and business helped them to do business better; gave them different ideas about how to do things; that I’ve given all readers from business owners or just generally people involved in the plastics industry some food for thought about science, about the Law of Unintended Consequences, and to help them stand up for plastics so that it remains a vital and viable industry.

Final thoughts?

Goldsberry:  It’s been a good run; a good life. I didn’t turn into an Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott or Zelda Fitzgerald or Anais Nin, all favorites of mine who I once dreamed of emulating in writing, but I was cut out to be a non-fiction writer. Plastic has been fantastic to me! No regrets.

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