Strong relationships will get us through the tough times

This article is excerpted from Deborah Ragsdale’s incoming president’s speech, delivered at the 65th Annual IAPD Convention in Louisville, KY, USA on August 18, 2021.

by Deborah Ragsdale
Incoming IAPD President

am thrilled to be here with you today. Becoming the president of IAPD is one of the greatest honors.

I would love to tell you little bit about myself and how my relationships have made me who I am today. I want to tell you all about what makes me, me, about my foundation, my lifelines and my outcomes.

I married the best man I ever met. His name was Lowell Wright. He was my best friend, my helpmate, the father to my children. Lowell had two beautiful children that I helped raise, Christy and Adam, and we had one child together, Kevin. We were self-employed in the restaurant business. After about 10 years of marriage, we met two little girls at church who were foster children. They had two sisters in another foster home and soon we became a weekend visiting resource so they could spend time together. During this time a relationship was born, one of love and caring, one that led to the adoption of all four children, and led to a forever home for all of us.

There was a business down the street from our restaurant called Polymer Industries. The owner, Andy Saigal, ate lunch with us daily at our restaurant. Polymer Industries ran an ad in the local newspaper for a receptionist and they had a great benefit package, including health insurance. Adopting four girls with health problems and going from three children to seven made health insurance a priority for us, so I approached Andy about the receptionist position. I was hired immediately. I went to work at Polymer Industries on January 5, 1989, the day we signed the adoption papers on our girls. Our amazing life was just beginning.

Deborah Ragsdale
I started out as the receptionist at Polymer, then moved to accounting. I still talked to customers I had helped on a daily basis. When someone had a problem, they brought it to me to solve. I made lasting friendships —relationships — on those calls.

I became office manager while still in sales. When Andy’s son joined the business, I had the most empowering moment of my life when Ashoo asked me a simple question: “What would you like to do for our company?”

For the first time in my life I felt empowered, I felt trusted, I felt the buy in to Polymer Industries.

After a sleepless night, I returned with a long list the next day. I then became purchasing manager and human resources manager. Each job I took on with a passion to do the best I could do and a desire to be a big help to the company and the family I had grown to love.

Andy’s youngest son, Rohit, joined the business and asked if I would go on the road with him and help to grow the sales side of the business. My adventures began. I became the national distribution sales manager, and my primary job became to grow our business using the distribution channel as the ways and means to do that. Many relationships, many friendships were forged in the coming years. Friendships that will last forever. My company encouraged me to become active in IAPD and I joined the Editorial Committee. More relationships followed.

In 2009 I met a wonderful man named Guy Harris. He was my knight in shining armor. He swept me off my feet and showed me things I could have only imagined in the past. We were married in 2012 and we had a short, but oh-so-sweet relationship. My children and grandchildren loved him almost as much as I did.

Relationships with God, my husbands, my children, the Saigals, competitors, suppliers, employees and distributors/customers, were the driving forces in both my personal and professional success!

Looking out for each other

The performance plastics industry is as special and as full of relationships as my personal life has been. They are a rare breed.

When disaster happens, everyone moves in to help. They are not like vultures coming to feed off your customers, they sincerely do what they can to help you get back on your feet.

I would like to ask all the manufacturers to stand at this time. Look around please. You have built great relationships with these people. They will help you when you need help. When our Tacoma, Washington manufacturing facility had a fire, these are the people that called and reached out to help. When other manufacturers suffered losses, these are the same people who had a real desire to do what they could to strengthen and support. You may sit down, thank you.

If the distributors in this room would stand now please.

Please do the same, look around at each other. When the tornadoes hit the South, and destruction and devastation impacted so many, how many of these people reached out to you and your employees? IAPD started a fund, and the people in this room donated from the heart. You may be competitors, but through this association, you have so much more. You have built relationships. Be seated please.

Bad stuff happens

No one in this room is immune to tragedy. Bad stuff happens to us all. As most of you know, I have been married three times. No, I have never been divorced. After 31 wonderful years with my husband Lowell, he succumbed to a six-year, hard fought battle with cancer. My second husband, Guy, was killed in a tragic accident in 2015. I swore, never again.

In December of 2016, my only biological child, my beautiful son Kevin, died of a horrible disease called addiction. A disease I have sworn to do all I can possibly do to eradicate from this earth before I die.

I had reached my lowest point. I screamed at my God, I blamed Him for all that had gone wrong in my life. Do you know what He said to me? “Look around Deborah, look around.” He showed me my beautiful family, my children, my beautiful grandchildren, four of whom belonged to Kevin. I looked around and saw the Saigal family by my side, I saw my work family, my plastics family and I pulled myself out of that muddy hole I was in, and I pushed on. Back in life, back in work. And as it turned out to be God’s plan, back in love.

A man I had known for 40 some odd years, my daughter’s basketball coach, my children’s teacher and later principal to them and my grandchildren appeared in my life. We went to dinner, and God said “you belong together.” We fought hard against it because neither of us could bury another spouse.

Seventeen days after that dinner, we were married. I would like you to meet my life’s partner, my companion, the man I share a deep love with, because we have both known loss and life experience, Rickey Ragsdale. Another great relationship.

So, my personal life is back on track, my professional career is great, the plastics industry is thriving and then — bam — 2020 and COVID 19 hit us all with a vengeance. COVID happened to us all, each and every person in this room. We all lost family members, we lost friends, we lost employees, we lost business, we almost lost hope … no one is immune to the bad stuff. This is when we lean on our relationships, on our foundations.

Finally, at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, we did find hope, hope in the form of vaccines. These vaccines made it possible to reunite with family and friends, to renew business relationships, to steady the sinking ships, to finally feel that ray of hope … and then every industry in this country was in a panic because of the labor shortages and the supply chain shortages that have turned us all upside down. Materials, additives, even wood for skids and cardboard are difficult to find. On top of all of that, trucks and drivers are in short supply. And then … a new administration and congress with renewed and strengthened attacks on ALL plastics. The new administration is going for bans on plastic. IAPD has upped our government relations efforts, but it is not enough, we have a lot to do. We need our relationships, our voice and the collective power of our community, the plastics community.

There is and will be another side to this. We are all still here and more connected than ever. Our relationships are stronger than ever before. Yes, bad stuff happens, but we do not have to go through it alone.

The plastics industry is changing before our eyes. I see leaders bringing up their younger employees, exciting them, lighting a fire in them, letting them see and feel the beauty of relationships. Letting them find enjoyment in the things that made us all who we are and bringing up the next generation with the passion for the industry that every person in this room feels. I see our government relations initiative being led by the next in line, reaching out where we could not or did not to inform Washington, but most of all I see the next generation making a conscious vow to make recycling the accepted way, the right way, to do business. This generation is making recycling the rule, not the exception and in the process making the performance plastics industry stronger and better than ever before. I see more people embracing their employees as part of their family, the way that I have been made a part of the Saigal family, knowing the company will be supportive no matter what, and challenging them to do better than what has been done before.

These relationships are being built now and will continue in the future of the performance plastics industry. My crystal ball tells me that one day soon we will be considered part of the change and not part of the problem. We will be embraced by environmentalists and our efforts to steady the environmental impact of the “single use” plastic, and accepted as the community or the industry that made the largest impact on our future.

There is beauty on the other side
Yes, bad things happen, but there is beauty on the other side.

Let’s make it happen together with strong relationships that venture past being competitors, being distributors, being manufacturers. Let’s do this together, as friends. You can get through anything if you have strong relationships in this industry.