Ask the Expert

Chip Palmer is Vice President, Technical at Ethox Chemicals

Chip Palmer is Vice President, Technical at Ethox Chemicals in Greenville, SC. He has a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from M.I.T and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois. He started his career in 1987 as an R&D chemist with Dupont’s specialty chemicals business. Eleven years later, he transferred to the LYCRA spandex business as a project leader. After that business was sold, he left in 2006 to reenter the specialty chemicals business as Technical Director at Ethox Chemicals, where he is in charge of new product development and intellectual property management. He also assists with technical marketing, process development and regulatory issues.

How or why did you become involved in the specialty chemical industry and how long have you been a part of the industry?

I joined the specialty chemicals business in one of Dupont’s research and development (R&D) groups in 1987 out of graduate school. I wanted to invent new products for “better living through chemistry.” I enjoyed working there for 11 years, working on diverse projects such as new antioxidants, fabric finishes and gasoline detergents. After Dupont sold its specialty chemicals business, I transferred to the company’s LYCRA spandex division and was there eight years as a new product project leader. After that business was sold, I returned to specialty chemicals, joining Ethox Chemicals in 2006. The best part of specialty chemicals (R&D) is getting to work on many new product development programs across several markets. It’s challenging, but fun to learn new technologies and figure out how you can apply your knowledge and your company’s capabilities to solve problems.

What do you think are the most pressing challenges facing the specialty chemical industry and what solutions do you recommend for addressing them?

The regulatory environment we face when introducing new products has become challenging. There is a balance between the value a new product brings to society versus the potential downsides or hazards. I don’t think our society and our government understand the science and have become exceedingly risk averse and easily alarmed. There is a lack of understanding in the probabilities and our ability to safely manage the potential hazards. We need to educate them on the many benefits we bring to society, so they can make smart decisions. I think the American Chemical Society video on aspartame and its hazards is a great example.

Do you think there should be common goals within the industry? If so, what would those goals be?

Yes, a few. One should be to educate people on the value the specialty chemical industry brings to them individually and to society as a whole.

How would you define and measure innovation in chemistry?

I like Wikipedia’s definition of innovation: Innovation is a new idea, or more-effective device or process. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. The number one measure of innovation is the commercial success of the new product. Profitability is society’s measure of the value of a new product.

Please share a couple of personal or professional strategies you intend to pursue in 2018.

Learn how to successfully be an empty nester. Race more in cycling and triathlons. They’re fun and challenging! Continue to improve my time management and prioritization skills. There’s always more to do than time allows at work and at home.

What are some of the major changes you have seen in the industry since you became a part of it?

Increased buying and selling of specialty chemical businesses, especially by non-chemical companies and the inexorable drive toward consolidation. It seems that owning a specialty chemical company goes in and out of fashion.

What advice would you give a young person thinking about going into the specialty chemical industry?

It’s probably as good an industry to enter as any other in the chemical industry. There will always be a need for new specialty chemicals.

  • Don’t expect to stay at the first company you work for all of your career.
  • When looking for a job, choose a company that takes a long-term perspective and plans to reinvest in its business. Also, consider a job with a smaller company; the culture at a smaller company can be a valuable asset when deciding your future.

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