Solenis – Chemical Reactions
Solenis offers its clients unique chemistry-based solutions, but they are offering a service as much as a product.
Solenis is a unique speciality chemical company combining services with unique chemistries to create solutions for water-intensive industries.
“These solutions encompass improving downtime, reducing maintenance, driving sustainability and optimising production,” explains John Panichella, CEO of Solenis. “A lot of companies sell products, and while we have products as well, our products are encompassed by service and know-how to create unique solutions for our customers.”
What makes these solutions unique is the collaborative way Solenis works with customers to deliver them, as well as the talent and expertise of Solenis’ staff.
“If you have a service model like ours, one of our unique attributes is the skill level of our people. The experience they bring to the table allows them to offer a different perspective and I think that’s highly valuable,” Panichella tells us. “In many ways, customers think of them as a consultant. Our people, in their training and experiences, provide value to the customer. In addition, a lot of our chemistry is unique. The combination of a unique person and unique chemistry create some great outcomes for customers.”
Those great outcomes are necessary, as Solenis is working in a demanding sector.
“There’s constant pressure from customers. These are big, water-intensive industries that have a lot of operating pressure to drive productivity and cost,” Panichella points out. “It’s a constant challenge our customers face, and that challenge is laid upon us to help them. It is an even bigger challenge to do all that sustainably work with the customers. You invest a lot in training and technologies to build a reputation for value, but even when you’ve done that you need to keep working because every day you have to go out and re-earn it.”
One area where there is a great deal of customer engagement at the moment is in the arena of sustainability.
Our customers are really looking at sustainability because the world is changing around brands and what brand owners are required to do. If you look at any consumer product, sustainability has become very prevalent in today’s business environment,” Panichella says. “Our products, programs and services have historically provided customers with critical benefits such as reduced water or energy utilization. In addition, helping to manage waste is another key area. We have chemistries that enable paper manufacturers to utilize higher rates of recycling or waste paper and we have unique chemistries that allow customers to have compostable solutions for their paper products. For example, if you are making packaging or paper cups, our technologies allow them to recycle and reuse those materials as well as making them compostable. So, there’s a big aspect of sustainability in the solutions we provide.”
This means that every member of Solenis’ team is working hard to deliver value with every project.
“Utilizing the saleforce.com platform, we have a program we call ValueAdvantagesm that tracks every customer project targeting a minimum five per cent return on investment. For every one of these projects, we intend to deliver and document this value every year. In most instances, we exceed our targets. Panichella says. “So, if I did a million-dollar project I would be required to document and show you that I saved you 5% of your operating costs by improving your productivity, driving more efficiencies or enhancing equipment reliability.”
Of course, this is impossible without a dedicated and talented team to identify those programs that provide that kind of value to our customers.
“Recruiting talent is pretty important for us, but what’s more important is how we train them,” says Panichella. “We have a process, called TREK where an employee will self-assess against a long list of technical competencies and commercial competencies and say ‘These ten I am really good at but these six I have a real deficiency and want to learn and build my skills in these areas’. We then support that employee’s training and development that will allow them to build those competencies.”
This level of talent development extends beyond the front lines of the business, to how they nurture potential next-generation leaders.
“I think developing talent is critical, our leadership development program is key. It’s not the technical aspect, it’s how we build leadership throughout the company,” Panichella points out. “We offer numerous leadership programs from entry-level staff development through to our executive leaders. In addition, we have some programs specifically for women. As well as building our team to serve customers we’re building our leadership team.”
That team is working under some unusual conditions right now, causing Solenis to reassess a lot of the ways it does things in a post-COVID world.
“It’s changed everything, some things for the better, some for the worse. When it comes to our company, I would say we have learned we have to work differently,” Panichella says. “Like many other companies, we are utilizing virtual tools such as MS Teams internally and with customers to provide technical information. Today, that is more acceptable than it was with customers. As a result, now we can use digital technology to supplement our solutions and add another layer of value.”
On a practical safety level, as a chemical company, Solenis was in many ways already suited to working in a post-pandemic environment.
“Obviously being a speciality chemical company, safety was a number one priority already, so it wasn’t much of a cultural shift to introduce the kind of measures expected in the post-COVID world,” Panichella points out. “I’m proud of the fact we have over 5,500 employees around the world in 120 countries and to date, we’ve had only a small number of cases and no one has not reported back to work. So, we have done a good job keeping employees safe. And by the way, we are a critical industry so we worked through the entire pandemic and most of our people are not working remotely. Our commercial people are in customer plants, our manufacturing sites have had no downtime and our labs have people working at the bench.”
Looking forward, Solenis wants to continue to build on its value and trust partnership approach with customers. Everything the business is doing is about building its people, its offerings, its capabilities to be trusted partners with its customers and meet their sustainability and operating goals.
“That means I have to have the best team, trained constantly, and then I’ve got to continue to invest in technologies to give them tools to solve problems,” Panichella says. “Our approach around how we develop technologies is unique in we have an ‘outside-in’ approach to developing technology not ‘inside-out’. In our laboratories, our scientists do not sit around wondering what customers want, or just ask people in the field what customers want. We embark on an in-depth approach to understanding customers’ needs, predominantly their unmet needs, and then really try and understand what kind of solution they require. Only after that process do we invest money to create a solution.”