Navigating strategy in the global chemical industry

A surprise call from a headhunter kicked off an unexpected journey with an Asian chemical leader, challenging me to find the best way forward for the company in a tough market. Diving into an unfamiliar chemical sector and developing strategies for the company’s next steps, this experience highlighted the value of adaptability and insight. Navigating a billion-dollar company through tricky waters became a lesson in applying cross-industry experience and the crucial role of building strong leadership connections.

How it began

Late in 2023, quite unexpectedly, a headhunter got in touch with me. Their client, a CEO within the global chemical industry based in Asia, was in search of a Director of Strategy. Although they initially offered a full-time position, my existing client commitments meant I was available only for project-based work. Fortunately, my profile was still presented to the client, and as it turned out, my part-time and short-term availability matched their needs even more closely. 

The company

The company in question was approaching the billion-dollar mark, operating within the traditional – cyclical – chemistry sector, verging on a straight-out commodity business. It purchased significant quantities of commodity raw material chemicals and sold its products into a commodity market. As you might imagine, this led to fluctuating fortunes, with some years faring significantly better than others.

The challenge

The pivotal question wasn’t just coming from the CEO; it also emerged from the chairman of the board. They were on the lookout for strategic advice on potential fundamental directions for the company, pondering, ‘Can we, in a relatively short timeframe, determine the best path forward for our company?’ The options on the table were diverse: investing in sustainable new chemical technologies, acquiring a player within the existing industry, or merging with a larger entity—essentially, contemplating selling themselves. These are radically different directions, each presenting a unique set of considerations for both the owners and the management.

My role in the process

My role extended beyond giving advice. I served as a sounding board, a provider of logic, an external voice in the process, bringing an outside perspective to their strategic planning. Our collaboration kicked off with a face-to-face meeting, allowing us to connect deeply and quickly. From there, we moved to a virtual setup. I reviewed various internal documents, got the necessary background information, conducted outside-in research, and used my industry knowledge to outline the different options.

Crafting the strategy

Discussions with the CEO were incredibly transparent and open. Together, we crafted a position paper outlining the options: investing in new ventures, seeking a merger, or even selling. Interestingly, the potential parties for a joint venture or for buying or merging are nearly the same, so you could essentially tackle that as one unified process. Thus, my recommendation was to initiate that process. However, the final decision on the company’s future direction now rests firmly in the hands of the owners.

Conclusion 

This project was well defined and efficient: three months from start to end, one day a week, with a clear goal and process. It ended with us sharing our conclusion on the proposed strategic directions with the owner.  

Way forward

As we wait to see which path the company chooses, this project stands out as a prime example of how open and straightforward collaboration can pave the way for significant strategic decisions in any industry.

Time and again, the success of a project seems intrinsically tied to the combined strength of the leader’s vision and our mutual rapport.’

Key takeaways

One of the highlights of this project was the opportunity to work with a company in an entirely new region for me, alongside a CEO with whom I had no prior connections. This experience extended into a segment of the chemical industry unfamiliar to me; I was virtually new to the specific chemistry involved. This journey underscored a valuable lesson: the broad applicability of my experience across different business contexts. Yet, it also reinforced how much hinges on the personal connection with the leadership involved. Time and again, the success of a project seems intrinsically tied to the combined strength of the leader’s vision and our mutual rapport.’

Ready to navigate your company’s strategic journey?

Whether facing uncertain markets or seeking fresh growth avenues, the path forward demands a blend of adaptability, strategic insight, and strong leadership connections. As Peter4Strategy, I specialize in turning challenges into opportunities with a broad range of services. If you’re ready to explore innovative strategies tailored to your unique situation, let’s connect. Reach out at peter.gommers@peter4strategy.com or +31-6-53361249 to start your strategic journey today.

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