Ask the Expert

Dave HurderDave Hurder, Vice President of Operations and Specialty Chemicals at McGean, Inc.

Dave Hurder is Vice President of Operations and Specialty Chemicals at McGean, Inc., and the Immediate Past Chairman of SOCMA’s Board of Governors. At McGean, Hurder’s responsibilities include the company’s Specialty Chemicals and Custom Manufacturing businesses, all supply chain and manufacturing activities, process technology, plus environmental, health, safety and security. He also serves on the Board of Directors for McGean, as well as the Ohio Chemical and Technology Council.

Q&A

How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry and how long have you been a part of the industry? My first experience with specialty chemicals was in 1981, working as a production engineer in a batch polymer plant for Air Products and Chemicals in Calvert City, KY. The opportunity was presented, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Looking back, I would say it was a good move to make.

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the specialty chemical industry and what solutions do you recommend for addressing them? Regulatory burdens always come to mind as a challenge. This is a double-edge sword, as they consume considerable resources but at the same time they can serve as a barrier to entry into the industry. If you can integrate the regulatory compliance into your operations efficiently, they can actually offer a competitive advantage. Another challenge is that ours is a capital intensive industry. Business growth must always be balanced with capital availability.

Do you think there should be common goals within the industry? If so, what would those goals be? Since the products we manufacture are often not obvious to the everyday consumer, the industry needs to work together to maintain a positive image and be seen as responsible contributors to the economy and people’s everyday lives. A good start is solid EHS&S [Environment Health Safety & Security] performance utilizing management systems such as Chemstewards. We also need to constantly communicate that our industry is “high tech” and manufactures products that are the building blocks for much of the economy.

How would you define and measure innovation in chemistry? I don’t have a good answer to this question. The only indicators I could suggest would be to measure how the industry responds to changes in societal needs and whether it continues to develop new products to meet customer requirements. If the industry continues to grow, you could argue that it must have been responsive and innovative.

Please share a couple of personal or professional strategies you intend to pursue in 2014/15. McGean has seen much growth over the past several years, and we have added new people and equipment to our facilities. My efforts will be to ensure that we integrate the new people and processes within our organization so we can operate safely and efficiently and continue to do a good job for our customers.

What are some of the major changes you have seen in the industry since you became a part of it? Globalization is the first thing that comes to mind. In most situations today, one has to consider competitors and markets around the globe when evaluating a business opportunity. Second would be how large chemical companies have grown while at the same time shedding internal manufacturing capabilities. Outsourcing of manufacturing was rare when I joined the industry and has become much more common today. This opens up many opportunities for companies like McGean that specialize in custom batch manufacturing.

What advice would you give a young person thinking about going into the specialty chemical industry? This is a great time to be starting your career in the specialty chemical industry. During the past several years, the economics of manufacturing in the U.S. have changed and we are certainly competitive relative to the rest of the world. Investment is flowing into the industry, generating growth in the U.S., plus the industry has an older workforce so it won’t be long before many of the old guys like me disappear. Both of these will create career opportunities for young people who have gained experience in the technical, operational and business aspects of our industry.   

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