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What does the current downturn in industrial manufacturing mean for executives searching for a senior role in the chemicals industry?

December 3, 2022
Energy & Chemical Value Chain

It’s not so many weeks back that a shortage of trucks and containers, low water on the Rhine, meant that producers could not meet demand. More recently, the production of energy-intensive chemicals such as ammonia, methanol, VCM and so on has been slashed by 30% to 50% and more in some cases. As ICIS reported recent shutdowns and premature turnarounds are everywhere.
As you say, the European petchem sector is readying for some tough quarters ahead as industrial activity and consumer demand turns down. It’s a different picture in the US where demand remains strong and low-priced product is finding its way to Europe.

So is this the best time ever to find a new role in the chemical industry – if you are in Europe, you would expect me to say probably not. But actually, it depends. So let me give you four answers to this question:

  1. The industry may not need more people, but it urgently needs different people with different skills. There are many executives who will not be able to manage under current conditions. Many will have been successful at growing businesses in times of short supply and growth that will not be up to the challenge. Boards will not be patient. So, if you are that leader with proven skills, agility and resilience to lead through these difficult times, your moment has arrived. Our clients will want to be talking with you.
  2. If you have done more than just talk about ESG, the circular economy, have thought ahead, built personal networks and understand the fundamentals in waste management, recycling technologies and the politics that motivate legislators, and already have practical experience at making the circular economy work – you are in high demand.
  3. If you are in the US, on the Gulf coast, the shortage of talented leaders has reached a critical point where senior roles are not being filled. Salaries are rising, employers are meeting and bettering competitive offers and families have become less mobile. The pandemic has reduced mobility. So if you are an experienced executive with prior experience in the US and are mobile outside of the Gulf coast – there are plenty of roles available in the market.
  4. Use this time well – the ideal role may be some time away – invest in yourself now – go take some courses, no, not yoga or wellness, but about issues that will matter to the future of the chemical industry. Cutting costs, making the assets sweat – the industry already knows how to manage these: recognize the industry faces existential threats on sustainability, geographic dislocation, and the disruptive forces of AI and digital technologies. These will not go away just because we need to focus on things we already know – so now is the time to invest in extending your expertise.

By Andrew Kris, Borderless


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