2012 EPCA’s Annual Meeting “Talent and Technology : Drivers of Innovation in the Chemical Industry”

Around 2600 executives from the global chemical business community gathered in Budapest from October 6 to 10, 2012 for the EPCA Annual Meeting. This year’s Meeting focused on the issue of talent and technology in the chemical and logistics industries. EPCA’s President Tom Crotty, Director Ineos Group, explained how the chemical industry will need to use talent and technology to drive innovative and keep pace with change. He told the EPCA audience “We have to innovate and continue to drive through those technological breakthroughs that meet the needs of an ever-changing world. Our ability to innovate is entirely dependent on and limited by the talents of our people.” Mr. Crotty also said that the chemical industry holds the key to resolving the twin challenges that face the world : how to meet the needs of a growing population while also reducing the impact of humankind on the ecology of a fragile earth. In the short term, the chemical industry is already using its talents and technologies to husband those scare resources. Chemistry is allowing the world to light-weight cars and planes and drive up their fuel efficiency to ease the environmental burden. The chemical industry is already underpinning renewable energy resources, whether by providing the materials for solar cells, the lubricants for wind turbines or the technology to make fuels from waste.

The next speaker, Dr. Ajit Baron Shetty, addressed the audience on talent, technology and innovation from a viewpoint from the healthcare and pharmaceuticals sector. Mr. Shetty focused on the importance of great leadership and the need to nurture a dynamic, creative working environment to foster and drive a culture of innovation with enterprises. He also acknowledged that the rising costs of developing new products and medicines is a challenge which today is increasingly being met through collaborative relationships with a wide range of partners with their own special talents and technologies. Dr. Shetty said that his career at Janssen Pharmaceutica gave him the opportunity to work under the guidance of Dr. Paul Janssen, who he describes as probably the most prolific researcher in pharmaceuticals that ever lived. Under Paul Janssen, the company’s business was based on strong, empowered teams. His door was always open if you needed advice, but people felt empowered to take responsibility and decisions. They felt they were running their own businesses, but everyone was also aligned to the business of improving healthcare and saving lives. Dr. Shetty also said that companies and their development teams need more women. Gender difference and more ethnic diversity is needed to better meet customers’ needs. And we also need more diversity of thought. Dr. Shetty urged the future managers to develop outside their comfort zones.

Academic, author and businessman, Soumitra Dutta, offered EPCA some thoughts on the importance of digitalization and social media technologies in innovation processes for businesses. Addressing the audience on “Turning Innovation into Sustainable Profit”, Mr. Dutta said that combining people with technology in the right way leads to innovation. But innovation in itself does not necessarily result in sustainable profit. Leadership is required to achieve sustainable profit. Mr. Dutta reminded the audience that consumers are adopting technology faster and faster. It now seems that organizations are now behind people when it comes to the adoption of technology. Mr. Dutta urged the industry to “close the technology gap” : an organization must adjust from email communication to the new reality of digital social media. Companies must make sure that they have the right technology base to communicate with the young people who are its employees and with those among its customer base.  To leverage connectivity, it is essential that companies match their structures and processes with the outside world.  Mr. Dutta said that there is a challenge for companies to design innovation into their companies and to balance learning – exploration – with efficiency – execution. The answer basically lies with leadership.

Mr. John Kao, Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, and past Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on Innovation, talked about the definition and adoption of appropriate models for innovation. He reminded everyone that innovation is a capability, not a wish.  Innovation is about changing the way things are done. Mr. Kao siad that all of us may be smarter than some of us. There’s the whole notion that a societal brain is now being enabled by social media.

The Monday evening address was delivered by Dr. Dambisa Moyo, author and economic. Dr. Moyo talked about “What is it Going to Take to Be Successful”.

This year’s Closing Lunch speaker was the Rt. Hon. Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the London’s Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games. Lord Coe’s speech focused on “Talent, Technology and Sports. What Business can Learn from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics”. He reminded the audience that the chemicals sector helped make the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics a huge success. The chemical industry played an important role in helping to put sustainability at the hart of the 2012 Olympics. Sustainability impacted every aspect of the games from food to energy. It also meant London needed to become the public transport games for spectator access, with low emission transportation for athletes and officials, sustainable buildings, and social and economic transformation. The chemical industry played a key role in making these aims achievable. Lord Coe emphasized that it was important to make a connection with young people and therefore to use the language and technology that young people understand. Today, there are 3 billion people under 25, and they are online. Although today’s youth may be described as highly individual, they are also engaged through collaborative networks. For the 2012 Olympics, the organizers strived to create a “global conversation around London” that would engage young people.

On Tuesday morning the Supply Chain and Logistics Leaders gathered over breakfast to discuss the “Geographical Scope, Technology, Sustainability, Complexity and Transparency in the Chemical Supply Chain”. Reference was made to the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 report for 2012 that had surveyed 298 global companies with sales in excess of $ 10 billion. Companies were positioned in terms of their degree of Innovative Excellence measured against Operational Excellence. The survey put several key chemical customers in the Top 25  but significantly no chemical companies. In round table discussions, participants came to the conclusion that the industry is making progress but no real breakthrough or paradigm shifts are happening. General consensus however was that the Gartner study should be a wake-up call and inspiration for the chemical industry. Apparently evidence of sophisticated relationships between producers, and customers and suppliers was in short supply. The chemical industry still appears in many respects to be a traditional and conservative industry, and continuing cost pressure and short-term, opportunistic commodity strategies were seen as barriers to open information exchange and collaboration. There was also a broad consensus on the view that sustainability still lacks clear targets and this is reflected today in soft KPIs. One view was that sustainability and end-consumer pressure will eventually help to drive investment decisions, new customer approaches, and modal shift, although today the latter is often seen as a function of cost pressure.

Please find the full meeting report here http://www.epca.eu/content/Publications/AnnualMeetingReports/docs/AM2012Report.pdf

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