Spending time with inspiring leaders is one of the best perks of my job. Being analytical and having had an early career as an Engineer, it’s even more exciting for me when those leaders happen to work in a manufacturing/engineering environment with large technical equipment, like for example the assets found on chemical manufacturing sites – the bigger and nastier (COMAH) the better – then things get more interesting still.
We have specialised in this field for over 10 years, discovering and refining our approach to finding exceptional leaders; individuals with deep professional knowledge and understanding, the highest standards, extensive appreciation of Chemical manufacturing, with an obsession for safety; BUT crucially that little bit more, when it comes to people…
Finding Leaders and Executives in the Chemical Industry
In any changing situation, be it economic climate, political, exchange rate cycles or general commercial situation – good, bad or indifferent, the need to run hazardous and often difficult manufacturing sites whilst maintaining high SHEQ standards really does keep most people fully engaged and to be frank, many if not most site leaders and manufacturing/Operations Directors often have little time for other things.
Over the years, we have been privileged to work with leading chemical manufacturers – helping organisations and operations grow and develop, but also meeting and working in partnership with Leaders and Managers at site and multi-site levels.
And, it is interesting to now take stock a little and think about those Leaders, once recruited, who thrive and do well in today’s environment, with: new regulations, commercial/market and business pressures, as well as changing geopolitical situations to mention just a few variables.
The entire industry of course continues to move forward, with some big industrial names and influencers also now conspicuous by their absence, meaning that some of the historical benchmark and industry reference points (it’s hard to get beyond ICI for example) have left big holes.
And of course, in recent years there is better news, with some manufactures now making good numbers, with healthy EBITs and the ability to move beyond survive into strategic investment and growth.
There are a whole range of variables, changes and influences that can affect todays chemical manufacturers, including:
- COMAH and other safety based day to day and strategic concerns
- An ageing (demographic) operational work force, often more acute in remote locations or those environments with low churn
- Associated with this can be a natural reluctance to change and improve, running counter to Lean and Continuous Improvement type initiatives
- Innovation – greater use of technology and automation balanced against manufacturing assets which may not have (historically)received the investment, they deserved
- No relaxing in SHE-type requirement but greater responsibility to manufacturers and less old-style policing from regulators
- Significant global exchange rate fluctuations
- Brexit based market changes
- Generally, succession planning challenges, often growing in line with improved commercial performance
- Some rationalisation and increased M&A activity
- Overall significant future uncertainty
So, against all of this change it is again interesting to note those organisations and key people who appear to thrive and do well.
Better companies, those with a clear strategy and desire to possess or maintain/improve world class standards are now demanding exceptional people:
- Individuals who feel the need to go beyond the day-to-day requirements or short-term strategies.
- Individuals who embrace change and moreover are excited for others and take people/teams along journeys, as opposed to old fashioned more autocratic additional type firing and hiring change management.
So again, who are those individuals who excel in these roles?
Well interestingly for us there is a common trait, yes a long list of accomplishments, objective evidence, references and of course a track record of simply having done it…but it is now more than that. There seems to be an emerging personality trait which works – the ability to connect with people, at all levels, via a flexible communication style. And more than this, these leaders are those individuals that many of us are drawn towards and want to spend time with, often helped by an apparently natural and grounded approach that just speaks of being humble and thoughtful of others.
For me I would often describe these people (and forgive the drinking metaphor) as great people that I would like to have a drink with!
They are often hidden away, focused on their current activity, but in the end, they are there waiting to be found.
Managing Parter at Edward Drummond