Ask the Expert

David DolesDavid Doles, Vice President, Global Marketing - Coatings and Composites, Lonza, Inc.

David Doles is Vice President, Global Marketing - Coatings and Composites at Lonza, one of the world’s leading suppliers to the pharmaceutical, health care and life sciences industries. Lonza is a SOCMA member company, and Doles serves on the association’s Board of Governors. At Lonza, Doles directs strategy development and supply innovation for strategic raw materials, energy and indirect categories throughout the company. In addition to his work in the chemical industry, Doles is also a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain and an avid sailor. Here, Doles shares his thoughts on common goals and challenges facing specialty chemical manufacturers, and discusses some of the major changes he’s seen in the industry throughout his career.

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?Graduating with a degree in chemical engineering, the specialty chemical industry was a natural place to begin my career. That was 28 years ago, and I continue to find exciting challenges and opportunities in this dynamic and diverse industry.

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the specialty chemical industry and what solutions do you recommend for addressing them? The specialty chemical industry was built on innovation - using chemistry to bring unique solutions to a wide range of end markets. Over time the uniqueness of many technologies has eroded, and many markets have taken on a more commodity-like character. Increasing cost pressures both upstream and downstream in the supply chain have impacted profitability and further investment. To keep the “specialty” in specialty chemicals requires a renewed focus on, and investment in, innovation. And this innovation need not be limited to clever chemistry. Understanding customer needs and bringing solutions through innovative service, delivery or know-how can expand how customers view the value of our offerings.

Another critical challenge faced by the industry is the pressure from governmental and non-governmental organizations and individuals seeking to limit the environmental impact of chemical products and processes. I believe the industry has done an admirable job in addressing many of these issues and promoting a fact-based assessment of potential risks. But these pressures will continue, and it is not enough to defend existing practices. Successful companies in the future will be those that are leaders in bringing newer, more sustainable technologies to the market.

Do you think there should be common goals within the industry? If so, what would those goals be? There are indeed a number of common goals within the industry. One important goal is to protect the health and safety or our employees, our communities and our customers. Assuring safe operations presents a positive view of the industry as a whole, and it’s just good business. This is where SOCMA and its ChemStewards® program play a major role in promoting best practices and continual improvement throughout the industry.

Another important goal is to ensure the industry has access to the resources that will allow it to remain globally competitive. This includes basic inputs such as energy and raw materials, as well as a well-educated workforce. The U.S. shale gas boom has the potential to provide a low cost source of energy and basic feedstocks for decades to come. The U.S. also has some of the best educational institutions in the world, but there is a need to better promote science and engineering to assure they are creating the future leaders of this industry. In these areas the industry needs to work with all levels of government and other parties to be sure the right decisions are made to realize the full potential of these resources.

What are some of the major changes you have seen in the industry since you became a part of it? One of the most significant changes I have seen is the globalization of the specialty chemicals industry. This can be a double-edged sword, however, as globalization opens up new markets, it also creates new challenges from lower cost countries. On balance I am convinced this has been a positive for the industry, as it has rewarded the most innovative and cost-effective players, creating a strong platform for future success. I think this is playing out today as we see re-shoring taking place across many manufacturing sectors.

Another significant change has been the impact of regulations on our decisions and investments. The alphabet soup that comprises our regulatory universe (EPA, FDA, OSHA, DHS, TSCA, FIFRA, REACH, EPCRA, etc.) seems to grow every day. While we can all agree on the importance of product stewardship, the proliferation of regulations can pose an insurmountable hurdle to innovation, investment and growth.

What advice would you give a young person thinking about going into the specialty chemical industry? First, start with a foundation built on a solid technical education. While chemistry and chemical engineering form an obvious basis for our industry, other disciplines play an important role and bring a valuable perspective.

Secondly, seek out diversity of knowledge and experience. Diversity is a defining characteristic of the specialty chemical industry, supplying hundreds of markets with thousands of products to every corner of the world. Developing insight into different technologies, markets and cultures will create the vision to form new connections, innovative solutions and lasting impact.

Finally, enjoy the ride. Just as the industry has changed over the course of my own career, it will continue to evolve in the future. Almost certainly in ways we cannot even imagine today. With change come opportunities to explore, learn and grow. Embrace the challenge and help drive the future.      

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