Rapidly changing market conditions can present significant challenges to small specialty manufacturers focused on providing products and services to a very targeted market. SOCMA member WeylChem U.S. recently faced that challenge due to changes in the agrochemical sector. The company responded quickly, though, with a two-pronged approach: organizational changes have increased its nimbleness and flexibility and improved its cost structure, while at the same time the application of its technical capabilities in new ways is enabling entry into a broader range of industrial markets.
WeylChem U.S., located near Columbia, SC, is one of nine operating companies in the WeylChem Group of Companies, which was established in 2005 as the Fine Chemicals platform of International Chemical Investors Group (ICIG), a privately owned industrial holding company. In addition to offering specialty intermediates for the production of agrochemicals, WeylChem U.S. has extensive expertise in Grignard chemistry and produces a wide range of Grignard reagents as catalog products and for internal use. In 2016, under the leadership of new CEO Philippe Robin, the company is developing a third area of expertise – the production of specialty intermediates and advanced products, including polymeric materials, for a number of different industrial applications.
Philippe came to WeylChem U.S. after completing a successful turnaround at another Weylchem Group company, with the intention of helping the company tackle the challenges it faced due to the declining agrochemical market. “The goal is to make WeylChem U.S. more sustainable by implementing smart solutions,” he said. Initially, a risk assessment was conducted in order to identify areas for improvement within the company and opportunities for growth in external markets. The information gained from this analysis was used to develop a strategy for increasing the overall competitiveness of WeylChem U.S.
“The first step was to make changes to the company structure and processes, and it is well under way. That includes investment process-related advances to improve efficiency and productivity. We also recently begun implementing phase two – looking at how WeylChem U.S. can serve different industrial sectors with existing and potentially new technologies,” Robin observes. “Our biggest accomplishment to date has been to find smart ways to be sustainable in a very challenging agrochemical market.” The company is, in fact, on the way to making major investments in new projects that will meet the needs of an industrial market. “We have high expectations that when the projects are completed it will change the split of our portfolio so that we are more heavily involved in the industrial rather than the agrochemical sector,” said Robin.
SOCMA has been instrumental in helping WeylChem U.S. achieve its successful turnaround. As part of his new strategy, Robin asked his leadership team to develop an operational excellence program because, based on his previous experience, he believed it would provide significant benefits for the company. “SOCMA staff not only helped define the program and its targets, they also assisted us with identifying the best approach for implementing the program. They were very flexible and responsive and, perhaps most importantly, helped us work through numerous options to define our objectives.” Robin explains. The company’s Champion and Green Belts are currently being trained and Robin expects the program will be implemented by the end of 2016.
Although Robin only joined WeylChem U.S. in January of 2016, he notes that the value of SOCMA to the company has been readily apparent to him from very early on. “SOCMA’s metrics program for regulatory compliance has been very useful for tracking and reporting our performance and identifying areas where we need to improve. In particular, the external audits that are part of ChemStewards® provide a valuable perspective and a way to highlight company activities where we should be considering new ideas,” he said. In addition, the staff at SOCMA have helped WeylChem U.S. save a lot of time and energy by quickly connecting the company with the right people at federal agencies, according to Robin. In addition, the involvement of two WeylChem U.S. employees on SOCMA’s Environment Committee helps the company stay informed on regulatory developments and provides access to useful compliance solutions. Robin has also observed that SOCMA’s Chemical Operator Training program has been important to the company. “With all of the changes that are taking place at WeylChem U.S., our operators are spending a lot more time in the training room, and SOCMA’s program has been a real asset during this process.”
Perhaps most of all, Robin has appreciated the accessibility of SOCMA staff and their real desire to provide assistance to members. “SOCMA staff always respond quickly any time we make an inquiry, and they are very easy to work with. In addition, they are very open to new ideas, always willing to assist, and always looking for practical solutions. Equally important, if they don’t have the answers, they are willing to help find the right people who can provide them. In today’s dynamic market and increasingly complex regulatory environment, small specialty companies like WeylChem U.S. that are undergoing significant changes in order to increase their competitiveness have a better chance of success when they have access to the extensive support offered by SOCMA,” Robin concludes.