In this episode of The Chemical Show, host Victoria Meyer invites George L. Vann, president of EcoServices, which is a part of Ecovyst to chat about his unique career path – from graduating with a mechanical engineering degree, to serving in the military, to various roles in the chemical industry. George emphasizes the importance of long-term relationships with customers and the need for long-term contracts to establish trust and dependability. He also shares insights into fundamental factors across businesses, including growth, providing value to customers, and attracting and retaining talent.


Learn more about the following in this episode:

  • Applying Leadership skills US Army to Business
  • Business mindset: big vs. small companies
  • Weathering economic storms in business
  • Impact of electrification on sulfur business
  • Circularity and sustainability in mature industries
  • The importance of talent and skilled trades


Drawing upon his military background, George discusses the leadership skills he acquired, emphasizing the importance of working with people, considering different viewpoints, making informed decisions, and taking accountability. Victoria and George also explore how creating partnerships with educational institutions help to develop internship and trainee programs, which can help create a pipeline of qualified individuals for vocational technical positions. Lastly, George highlights the need for smaller companies like Ecovyst to create unique value propositions to attract talent.

Please subscribe to The Chemical Show on your favorite podcast player. And, visit to subscribe to our email list and get additional insights.


Listen to the Podcast Here:

Watch the Episode Here:


Applying Leadership Lessons from the US Army to Chemicals with George Vann

Hi, I’m Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This week I am speaking with George Vann, who is the president of EcoServices, which is a part of Ecovyst. George has 30 plus years of leadership experience in the chemical industry and an extensive background leading diverse teams in a variety of areas commercial manufacturing, procurement. He’s worked at some leading companies that you all know W.R. Grace, BASF, and Engelhard. George is also a US Army veteran and has a BS in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia Southern University. So George and I are going to be having a great conversation and talking about a wide variety of things that you guys are gonna find interesting. So George, welcome to The Chemical Show.

Thanks, Victoria. Thanks for inviting me.

I appreciate having you here. What’s your origin story? What got you interested in chemicals and what ultimately led you to where you are at EcoServices?

I kind of got started looking at manufacturing as an exciting career. I remember when I was a child, my father was a plant manager at a plant that made fiberglass bathtubs. I remember one time touring it and thinking, hey, this is really cool. Just the process of making it, all the things that were going on, all the people doing different stuff. So I ended up going to Georgia Tech and graduating with a mechanical engineering degree. I went from Georgia Tech into the military for four and a half years. I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship, and that helped pay for school, and I went into the army.

When I finished the Army, I started saying, “Okay, now what’s next? Where am I going to go?” I started looking for opportunities and I joined the Engelhard Corporation as a maintenance supervisor. I worked in maintenance for a while, graduated into operations, and became a plant manager of my own. Then I moved into business roles. BASF came along around 2006 and bought Engelhard. So I transitioned from Engelhard to BASF, I worked in a variety of roles in BASF, commercial roles as well as a little bit of manufacturing. And then I left BASF in 2017 and joined W.R. Grace as head of their sales for specialty catalysts. We sold polyolefins catalysts, polypropylene, polyethylene catalysts, as well as chemical catalysts.

Then about a year ago, I was looking for what was next in my career. This opportunity came up with Ecovyst and EcoServices, and I decided that this was a good career progression. So I moved over to EcoServices in August of last year.

Awesome. So tell us a little bit about EcoServices, because I think a lot of people probably don’t know who they are.

Yeah, so EcoServices is part of Ecovyst. Some people may be familiar with PQ, and PQ went through some strategic realignment back in the 2021 time frame, 2020-2021. It came out of that realignment rebranding itself as Ecovyst. It was a leaner, more nimble company. Ecovyst is primarily a material science catalyst and services company, and there are two businesses within Ecovyst. One is the Catalyst Technologies, and the other one is EcoServices.

So what is EcoServices? Within EcoServices, we have four segments. We produce regenerative sulfuric acid that is used in oil refineries, and then we also produce virgin sulfuric acid. Additionally, we have a waste treatment section of our business where we treat hazardous waste and actually burn it in our furnaces and use the heat as part of the recovery process. Our last segment is catalyst activation, which we activate a catalyst that’s used in hydroprocessing and renewable fuels.

Interesting. So it’s maybe a really old school circular business in its own way.

Absolutely, it is. A lot of what we do with refineries is, we take the spent sulfuric acid that they use to make outlets. They use it and then send it back to us. We basically process it and increase its strength back to what is needed for the process in the refinery, them they use it and send it back. So it’s a circular process. It’s basically an old process that’s been recycling sulfuric acid for years and years and years.

Yeah, very cool. All right, we’re going to come back to that in a little bit, but let’s start with you and a bit of your history. So you were in the US. Army for four plus years, which is just a great and actually a somewhat unique background for a lot of folks. Number one, did you do anything exciting? And maybe more importantly, what did the army teach you that you’ve been able to apply to business?

The exciting part, so I have to lead with this, and people always kind of look at me with a side eye. I was stationed in Hawaii so that was exciting in and of itself. I was with the 25th Infantry Division, and I was in an engineering battalion, the 65th Engineer Battalion. What was interesting, though, is that battalion and that division had responsibility across Asia Pacific at the time. So we were sent on multiple deployments where we went to different countries, anywhere from two to six weeks, working with the local, host military on military exercises.

I got an opportunity to go to Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia. That was exciting because I got to meet a lot of different, new people. I got to experience new cultures and it really gave me a whole new appreciation for Asian culture, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

That’s interesting. It wasn’t enough to keep you there past your four and a half years, though?

Well, in the army, like in some businesses, after a few years it’s time to move. So when it was time to move, I was like, maybe it’s time to do something else.

Got it. So how have you applied your learnings from the army into business? I think that we always talk about the military being a great foundation, but for you, what have you seen that’s been really applicable?

The thing that was very helpful and I’ve used continuously since I left the army and came into business was the importance of leadership. The army really does a great job of training leaders at all levels within the organization. A lot of people think, well, if it’s in the military, don’t military leaders just give orders? Some people do, but it’s really not like that. I mean, in order to be effective leader, whether it’s in the military or business, you can’t just use your hierarchical authority to say, “I told you to go do this, go do this.”

You really have to understand how to work with people, how to use your influence, how to listen to different points of views and how to make the best decision. You take that, and you can apply that regardless of what organization you’re in. So when I left the army and went into maintenance and into different manufacturing or business roles, after learning what the key things you need to know are. Working with people, getting different points of view, making decisions, understanding the consequences of your decision but not waiting to make a decision, or making a decision and then taking accountability for your actions. All of those were important things that I learned in the army that I’ve carried on since then.

That’s pretty cool. There’s been a whole lot of books and other things about the power of habits and the power of routine. One of the statements I read recently said that one of the reasons that former military members and leaders are very successful in business is because they learn about that power of routine and habits. Would you agree with that? Do you find that to be true for you?

I certainly think there’s a level of discipline that you gain in the military that carries forward in self discipline. It starts with little things like you get up early when you’re in the army, and I still get up early. You get ahead of things. Planning, whether you’re speaking in a briefing or whether you’re going to a meeting, making sure you don’t just walk in there unprepared. So it’s a discipline about how you approach things that I think you take from the military, and you can apply it in business.

All right, so let’s talk about business. You’ve worked with a variety of companies. In some respects, they seem to have gotten progressively smaller. Like, if we think about the army being a giant corporation. Engelhard, maybe not so much. What are the similarities and differences that you’ve seen as you’ve migrated through your career?

Whether you’re in a really big corporation, which I’ve been in, or smaller companies, there’s some things that are fundamental across multiple businesses. One of the things that always comes up is, how are we going to grow? Another thing is, how do I provide value to my customers? What is it they’re looking for, and how can I provide value to the customer?  Another one that I’ve noticed particularly recently, but it actually has been around for a long time, is how do you attract and retain good talent? Everybody has that on their mind. Talent is something that’s always in demand. So those are some similarities between the different organizations I’ve been associated with.

If you look at differences, probably one of the biggest differences is resources. When you’re in a big company or a big bureaucratic organization like the military, you’ve got people that can do a lot of different things and are very specialized. As you get to smaller companies, you start to wear multiple hats. There’s not an expert to go see that does something specific. Maybe you got your HR hat on today, and maybe you’ve got your operations hat on today, and tomorrow you’ve got your strategic hat on. It’s not just one thing that you’re doing in small organizations. It’s not that they don’t have people, but they don’t have lots of people and so everybody’s got to divvy up the work and get things done.

Yeah, I would agree with that. I’ve gone from big to small to tiny where you have to hold a lot of different hats. It’s fun, but there are days that you’re like, isn’t there somebody to hand this off to? Why has this come to me?

Exactly. Yeah, I sure wish there would be somebody else who could help me with this. Well, that somebody else is you.

Absolutely. So post pandemic 2022 and 2023 has probably been more challenging than a lot of people anticipated. I think we knew that there was going to be some slowdown in business, but it’s been a different couple of years. How are the events of the past year, when you look at the Russia-Ukraine war and inflationary pressures, how are they affecting EcoServices?

We’re in a good spot in terms of our business model because although we produce and we sell sulfuric acid, really we’re more of a service industry business model, kind of like industrial gases. In that vein, we’re more resilient in tough and challenging economic times. But also you can have huge windfalls or it can be feast or famine.

For our business, 2022 was a good year overall because there was strong demand across multiple markets that we service. We’ve come out of the pandemic in a pretty good position. During the pandemic, just like everyone else, things were kind of slow and everybody slowed down, but now we feel like we’re positioned well for growth in the future.

Are there specific tactics or approaches that you find you’ve learned at EcoServices or you’ve applied from your career that you guys take to shore up business during these slower times or as they start speeding up?

So, one of the things that’s important for our business is we have long term relationships with our customers. That’s important. That helps mitigate some of the more challenging economic times. We create these long term relationships based on having long term contracts.

That’s two ways that refineries know they can depend on us. We’re there every day. Refineries run 365 days, so do we. They know they can depend on us, and we know we can depend on that customer. So I would say long term relationships and continuing to develop those relationships with customers, and then long term contracts to support those relationships, those are critical areas for us as we look to weather any economic storms and also for growth in the future.

So when you think about the future, a lot of your business is tied to refineries. I think everybody’s got a bit of a question about what the future of refineries is. When we look at this push towards electrification and electric vehicles and stuff, how are you looking at that or what are you guys seeing from where you sit today?

We’re in a unique position because we straddle some of the more traditional mature industries like refining, and we also support some of the emerging technologies or the technologies that are getting more focus, like renewable fuels and electrification. So first, from the refining standpoint, we think there’s still a long runway for refineries, and for refined products. There’s still a lot of internal combustion engines out there on the road, and they’re not going away in the next five years.

At the same time, there is an ongoing push that will continue for cleaner burning fuels. When refineries need to be able to blend stock to get those lower emissions and cleaner burning fuels, they use alkaloid. And alkaloid is made using sulfuric acid as part of the process. So that’s not going away. That’s on the mature side, on the emerging side, as we go more and more toward electrification, there’s demand for things like copper. There’s a lot of news around the copper demand. Well, in copper mining they use sulfuric acid, and sulfuric acid is important in the process of extracting the copper from the ore.

So all of this is where we have a nice balance between mature industries that we think are still going to have a long runway and the new emerging industries where there’s things like renewable fuels, mining, battery production that we’ll see for much longer in the future.

So you’ll be adapting your business to meet some of these new markets and market demands, but you see continued potential and potential growth.

Yes, absolutely. So we are looking at what’s shifting, how it shifts and being prepared. For instance, there may be a decline in gasoline consumption, so in response we look at how we can transition to more increased virgin acid production.

We touched on circularity and in fact, you guys have in many ways a fairly circular business in the sense that you’re regenerating products and that you’re not just using virgin sulfuric acid. How do you guys see circularity?

Do you feel like your narrative is well understood in terms of the fact that it’s not just this old, stinky, dirty industry, but that you actually are a circular business with a sustainable process and it is supportive of these new technologies. Or are you under pressure from your stakeholders as it relates to this?

I would say sustainability is a critical part of what we’re trying to communicate to the investment community, our customers, and our employees. Recently we were awarded EcoVadis’ Gold Certification.

Congratulations. That’s a big deal.

Thank you, it is a big deal. It shows that we are committed to being a more sustainable company. At the same time, like I mentioned, we’re looking at how our businesses, both Catalyst and EcoServices, contribute to existing sustainable practices as well as sustainable practices in the future. We’re involved with the recycling or recovery of spent sulfuric acid.

A lot of people don’t realize if we didn’t do that, all that acid would have to be disposed of through a deep injection well. By recovering it and reusing it again it really gets the message out that even industries that are mature and may not have as interesting a technology, really have a part in sustainability practices going forward.

Does this become part of your employee value proposition? I know you referenced that talent and finding the right people is a bit challenging. I think we see this across the chemical industry with the aging workforce, a desire for more hybrid working, maybe a bit of a disdain for these old industries. What are you and EcoServices seeing as it relates to talent and availability?

We talked about the importance of talent and not only attracting, but also retaining talent because you don’t just want them to come in the door. You don’t want to get great talent and they leave two years later to go someplace else. I think individuals with technical degrees are at a premium, whether it’s engineers, chemists, anyone with some type of technical degree is at a premium.

There’s also a premium for highly skilled vocational trades like mechanics, welders, instrument and electric technicians. All of those are important in industrial industries. So what we’re seeing is that whether it’s your big oil companies or your petrochemical companies or a smaller company like us, we’re all fighting for the same talent.

You mentioned a value proposition. You have to create a value proposition that explains why someone would want to come work for a smaller company like Ecovist versus working for a big company like ExxonMobil. So we try to create a unique value proposition that emphasizes the things that you can do and experience with a smaller company that may take you years to experience with a bigger company. You can have an immediate impact on the bottom line where you may get lost as a number in a really big corporation.

Yeah. Do you see that there’s a potential for faster progression in a smaller company?

There can be. I think what we look at and what candidates try to balance out is there may be opportunity for faster progression, but there may not be as many opportunities. For instance, if you’re in a really large company, maybe you can go to one of 100 different locations. Well, at a smaller company we don’t have 100 different locations. So, yes, there’s opportunity for advancement, but it’s not going to be the same as with a really big company.

Yeah, and I think it just depends on people’s perspectives in terms of what they value from a work style, work life balance, and impact, as you say. Because there’s this aspect of how much impact you can make and it differs.

In a small company, individuals make a very big impact. When you’re in a bigger company, sometimes people scratch their head and they say, “Okay, I know this is important, but how does this impact the bottom line?” You don’t have to worry about that in a small company. You know exactly what you’re doing makes an impact.

You talked about technically degreed talent, and I’ve got kids in college and who are doing engineering and computer science, STEM based programs, and there seems to be a ton of growth. These universities continue to have bumper crops, so to speak, of freshmen and graduates.

So it feels like perhaps this degreed technical talent is going to work out, and yet there seems to be a gap in the trades. Are you guys engaged in the community to help support that? What’s going on and what can people be doing to help support the trades? As you said, there’s a competition for talent, and it’s not just the engineers, it’s the electricians too.

Exactly. Well, at some of our sites, we actually are looking at working with community colleges or local vocational institutions. We’re saying,”Hey, maybe we can partner and have interns come in, or somebody can do a trainee program. And it benefits both of us.” It helps the local community college or vocational institute with the training of their students. It helps us introduce students to our company, and get them interested in potentially working for our company.

I really want to look at how we expand that broader, because in some of my previous companies, we actually had more formal relationships and that developed a pipeline. There’s a pretty good pipeline of engineers coming into the industry, but it’s these vocational technical degrees that really may not have as strong of a pipeline, and we need those individuals as much as we need the engineers.

It’s a dilemma. I will tell you, George, it’s a dilemma because as a parent I’m pushing my kids to college. Directionally. Yet I also recognize that there is a lot of non-degreed skilled talent, roles, and opportunities available that we need people to fill. I don’t know who it’s going to be though.

I remember about 10 years ago, I was down on the Gulf Coast, and there was a big push for capital projects. We were looking for welders and pipe fitters, and you just couldn’t find enough of them to staff these big capital projects. And those individuals, if you had a little experience, could make six figures. I’m thinking, wow, when I graduated from college, six figures was the ultimate goal.

It’s like the Holy Grail. You’re hoping to get there.

It is, and for these individuals, it’s a unique skill set and it requires some experience, but those individuals have been and will continue to be in high demand.

So what’s next for you guys? When you look ahead at the rest of 2023, going into 2024, what’s on your horizon?

Right now, we’re in our strategic planning process, we’re looking at what the next five years will look like. Like I mentioned earlier, whether it’s a small company or big company, you’re looking at, how do I grow? So we’re looking at where we want to grow and we are, as I mentioned, very strong in some of the mature industries. But we also recognize the trend and where companies are going in terms of being more green, more sustainable. So we’re looking at how we grow with them and the opportunities of where we want to grow.

Cool, I can’t wait to see what that looks like for you.

Me too.

Awesome. Well George, thank you for joining me today on The Chemical Show. This has been really awesome to have this conversation and learn more about you and about EcoServices and where the industry is going. So thanks for joining us on The Chemical Show.

Thanks very much Victoria!

And thank you everyone for reading. Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing and we will talk to you again soon.


About George Vann:

George Vann is President of EcoServices.   He joined Ecovyst in 2022 with 30 years of leadership experience in the Chemicals industry. He has an extensive background in leading diverse teams in a variety of areas including commercial, manufacturing and procurement. Most recently he worked at W.R. Grace and before that at BASF and Engelhard. George is a US Army veteran and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and an MBA from Georgia Southern University.