Listen to Victoria and Paul’s Conversation Here:
Navigating the momentum of sustainable technology in the chemical industry, Paul Whittleston, President of Advanced Materials and Catalysts at Ecovyst, joins host Victoria Meyer on The Chemical Show to explore the company’s journey in sustainability, international industry trends, and lessons in career development. Sharing insights from a significant career in the chemicals industry, Paul delves into career progression, the company’s rebrand, and its commitment to sustainability.
With a focus on the emergence of bio-based and renewable technologies, Victoria and Paul discuss challenges in recycling plastic waste, innovative catalyst technologies, and the significance of embracing change and seizing opportunities for sustainable growth, emphasizing the role of mentorship, communication, and culture in shaping successful careers and companies.
Join Victoria and Paul as they discuss the following topics:
- Charting an international career in the chemical industry
- The role sustainability plays in Ecovysts’s business strategy
- Zeolites – an old technology allowing innovation
- Educating investors and customers alike through dialogue and building relationships
- Striking the balance between delivering what your business needs today and the future of the company.
- War for talent in the chemical industry
Killer Quote: “Success in the chemical industry is driven by the success of our customers and partners. Understanding their needs is crucial, and balancing profitable growth today with sustainable growth for the future is the real challenge.” – Paul Whittleston
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Watch Victoria Interview Paul Whittleston on Youtube:
Catalysts, Sustainability, and Career with Paul Whittleston of Ecovyst
Hi, this is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show today. I am speaking with Paul Whittleston, who is the President of advanced Materials and Catalysts at Ecovyst. Paul is a native of the UK, which you’ll hear when we start chatting and yet has spent almost half of his life and a big part of his career living outside the country, a lot of his time here in the US, which is where he’s based currently in Philadelphia. Paul’s got a lot of great experience across the chemical industry and leading companies, including SEBA, BASF, SI group, and then most recently Ecovyst. And we’re going to be talking about Ecovyst and about Paul’s career and some other great things. So Paul, welcome to The Chemical Show.
It’s great to meet with you and thank you for having me on today.
Really glad to have you with us today. So let’s just get started by, some of your background and your origin story. What got you interested in chemistry and what’s ultimately led you to where you are today?
So you introduced myself as a native from the United Kingdom. As part of that, I was born and raised in a place called Bradford. One of the major employers in the Bradford area back then was a chemical company called Allied Colloids. For myself, I actually lived about a five minute walk from the Allied Colloids production site, so I was growing up in an area with a shadow of a chemical production site there. You talk to the neighbors, they worked at the production site, you talk to family members and cousins, and they worked at the production site, so it was always interesting to me.
At school, I studied chemistry. I was quite good at the sciences, maybe I was not the best at math and English, and one of the people that inspired me was the chemistry teacher called Mr. Alex Denton. He actually left the school and went to work for Allied Colloids in the training and development department. I got to the grand age of 18 and looking to say, what do I do, I managed to keep in touch and reach out.
He said, “Look, Allied Colloids hire people, and you basically work four days a week and go to university one day a week.” I’m like, wow, that sounds good. I earn money and I get an education. So I went through that process, tried to get a job there, they didn’t want me. There was no job. There was no opportunity. I’m about to go to university to study food science.
All of a sudden, a couple of weeks before I got a telephone call that says, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for you.” The rest, as they say, is history.
That’s pretty cool, and those are unique. I have some former colleagues in the UK who also started similarly at different companies in kind of this apprenticeship combination of working and going to school program, which seems like a really great way to bring people into the industry and into these companies.
Yeah, without a doubt. So the benefit of getting that work experience and actually learning how to do the job, but then at the same time at university and learning the theory. So you take the theory and apply it in reality there and then. Don’t get me wrong, you miss out on the student lifestyle. People of my age, my friends were out in bars and enjoying themselves. My Friday night was spent doing assignments. But the benefit of that four years later, you have a degree and you have a job now.
That’s pretty amazing. Yeah, and then you’ve really navigated a career in a lot of great companies. What helped you progress on that career path? What was key in making those decisions as you navigated your way up in your career as well as across different companies?
To start off, you’re a young 18 year old, what motivates you, let’s be honest, is the money. I had people that were going on holidays, they had the nice clothes, they had the nice cars, and I’d like some of that. But if you’re a student and you don’t have that, different priorities. For me, it was a case of, okay, what do people want? They like people that get things done. Okay. I can be one of those people that gets things done. They like people that pass exams and do well. Okay. I can be one of those people that passes exams and get things done and do well.
So all that comes together and it is quite good. I’m earning money, I’m getting an education, I’m learning new things. Then the first person that guided me came along and that was an HR director called Rob Swales. He was at the site and he went, oh, you’re doing really well. I’ve done a degree, I’ve done a master’s. We think you can do some more.
They put me on a part time MBA course that the company sponsored, and that really opened my eyes. As I went through that process of learning different functions, different departments, how they all work together. The company was absolutely wonderful. They came in and said, look, let’s give you some different opportunities. They started to move me into different projects, into different parts of the company. All that continued over time to pay off. There’s an assignment overseas, would you like to go? Where? Singapore. Where’s Singapore? The type of thing you’re looking on the map.
Oh, it’s this place over here. Trying to find it. Yes, exactly. A tiny dot somewhere over there. So yeah, let’s jump on a plane and go. I think this has been a theme of my career as I look through it is, know what you want and what you’re prepared to give to get what you want. Companies have created opportunities for you. They’ve created opportunities for me.
Michigan, New Jersey, Philadelphia, the UK, all these different places. But someone has to say, yes, I’m prepared to do it. So I have this mindset of I want to lead a business. I’ve met the CEO, I like the CEO, I want his job, I want to grow and be that person. What do I need to do to get there? I need international experience, I need different business experience, I need different functional experience. Yeah, but let’s do it. Let’s do it now.
And I think that attitude of let’s do it, let’s do it now, let’s try it is really certainly a good one.
Yeah, it sounds like it. I think that’s really great. And I think one of the things that strikes me is you’ve clearly navigated that successfully.
We often hear about millennials, is that they want the next thing. They want it now as opposed to being measured in delivery. You work with a lot of people across your business. How do you compare that in terms of wanting the next thing, which is really critical as you’re driving towards successes, having that ambition and driving and wanting that next thing, and yet being a bit measured in terms of how you’re supporting the company, how you’re maybe in some ways being patient or impatient, wanting that next thing?
The patience and the impatience, that’s a personality trait that people typically through experience learn how to manage and balance. There’s certainly generations coming in the workforce where perhaps, there’s a little mindset of this should happen for me. I’ve done this work, so I should get that.
But then there’s the reality of how do you work with people? How do you find your mentors? How do you find the people that support you? How do you work with those people to develop a career path for you? How do you also then take your own desires and wishes and communicate them to the management, but then also follow through? For example, it’s great that if someone says, I want this, but then the opportunity to move from New Jersey to Michigan comes. And the first thing is, Oh, it’s Michigan. It’s cold. I don’t want to go to Michigan.
Okay. You’ve said you want it and you want to go for it. And I think that’s, again, the mindset that people need. At the end of the day, we were all your wants. We all have certain priorities, certain desires. It’s a case of what’s most important for you. For someone, maybe the most important thing to stay with their friends, be in that community.
That’s the life that they want. For someone else, it may be, I do want to be a CEO or a president of a company and I’m prepared to compromise. Sometimes we have to coach and mentor and help people get to that point because someone coached and mentored and helped us get to that point.
Yeah, I think that’s right. So let’s talk a little bit about Ecovyst. So first of all, what got you to Ecovyst? What was attractive to it? And obviously you’ve made a lot of great choices throughout your career. What brought you to Ecovyst?
I have a network and the network was through a CEO called Mr. David Bradley, who connected me into the new CEO of Ecovyst, which was a guy called Mr. Kurt Bidding. So that network of having mentors, have people around you that you can talk to and they understand your needs. David thought that I could bring something to Ecovyst, so I met with Kurt. Now you’re having a dialogue of, where’s the company going? What’s the company need? Is it missing some skill sets? Is the leadership team missing some skill sets? Here’s who I am, here’s what I bring. Does that fit? Is it a good match? We had those dialogues and really it was a case of yes, my skills, what I bring with the international business experience that drives the passion to operationalize businesses and set them on a growth path. That’s what Kirk felt the business needed.
A lot of validation work, a lot of check in, me check in, the executive team check in. But once you’ve gone through those checks and gone, yeah, there’s a fit, the rest is very easy to make happen. And I’m really happy that I’ve just been here just over a year and not regretted one little tiny little bit of a decision. It’s wonderful.
Awesome. Tell us a little bit about Ecovyst cause not everybody might be familiar with it. Who is Ecovyst and what do you guys do?
I can give a little bit of history about Ecovyst and what we are today. So many of your listeners have heard of the name of PQ Chemicals. That’s part of our legacy. A number of years ago that business was split up and one part of the business became known as Ecovyst and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. That business today has two strong legs that we stand on. One is called EcoServices and another is called Advanced Materials and Catalysts.
EcoServices is a leading supplier of sulfuric acid for refinery, industrial and mining markets. Key aspects of our service is the reprocessing of spent sulfuric acid into fresh acid, and with that we avoid deep welling and create a circular economy for the acid.
EcoServices is also into processing organic waste streams that prevents waste being landfilled or deep welled, and also has a catalyst activation business called Chem32.
Part of the business that I lead today is called Advanced Materials and Catalysts. We’re a global supplier of wealth, plants, materials and catalysts. We focus on the unique properties of silica and zeolites. A strong part of our focus is developing and commercializing unique solutions for our customers. That’s where we take the advanced material nature of a zeolite and a silica, or we can use the catalytic nature of a zeolite or a silica to create those solutions. Those solutions are then used in industries such as polyethylene, emission control, hydrocracking, renewable fuels production, advanced recycling, and we also have many unique custom applications. Some of the latest ones being carbon capture and enzyme immobilization for biocatalysis.
It’s an exciting time to be part of our team today.
That’s great. So across the chemical industry, we obviously use a lot of catalysts. Where do we typically see your products and your customers?
One of our key routes to market is through what we call the licensors. So these are companies that go and develop a process. That process could be a polyethylene process or it could be a green renewable process that they’ve developed and they want to work with a catalyst producer to develop a catalyst specific to them, unique to them. So we would work with them. They would obviously go out there, build or license the building of plants. Sometimes they retain the catalyst sales and we sell through them. Sometimes they don’t and we sell to the end producer.
So in polyethylene, you could sell, for example, to a SABIC or an ExxonMobil, or you could sell through a Dow Innovation who may want to manage the sale. We also then sell into refineries, for example, through Steel List we would sell our hydrocracking catalyst direct to a refinery, a Chevron Phillips, or a Shell refinery, or an ExxonMobil refinery that want to do a change out.
But we also then do a lot of custom catalyst where we’d love to say someone’s got a problem and they think that a catalytic solution could help there. We work in partnership with them and where we really differentiate ourself is that ability to go from a lab to a pilot to a full scale production. All with speed in partnership to develop that custom catalyst. That’s where we see very much a sweet spot for us. So a good example for that could be working with companies that are in alcohol to jet type development.
So everyone’s trying to convert alcohols into jet fuels. To do that, you need a catalyst. So who do they come and work with? Companies like us that can make catalysts based off silicas or based off zeolites and know that industry.
Yeah, that makes sense. And obviously currently that’s a pretty big focus from a sustainability perspective and really the future of chemicals and fuels. So what role does sustainability play in Ecovysts’ business strategy?
Sustainability has been in our DNA for a long time. You get into sustainability topics of how do you drive energy efficiency, for example, how do you just do the basic blocking and tackling? We’ve been doing that for a long time. What’s changed is we now talk about it a lot more. We now celebrate it a lot more.
So if you go back a couple of years, in 2021, we created a senior executive level position that was focused on sustainability. In 2023, we made a director level position that was very much dedicated to sustainability. Some of the changes that we’ve done is, let’s come out with some sustainability awards where we recognize what our production sites or what our businesses have actually done. An example of that is we developed a catalyst to make bio butadiene natural feedstocks.
That one’s in the public domain that we worked with different companies and for that we recognize the performance of that team. Now it’s a little bit deeper and broader than that when we think about it, because now you’re getting to product development. And an interesting little fact, about 70 percent of our new product revenue actually would be classified as sustainability driven. For example, dewaxing. We all think biodiesel and renewable fuels are wonderful, absolutely the right thing to do. If you were to put this in an engine without going through the chemical processes and the temperatures get as cold as what they are doing today, those engines won’t start. It will gel a block.
So you use a waxing process that dewaxing process takes those long hydrocarbons and breaks them down into smaller ones. How does it do that? It uses a catalyst based off zeolites. So there’s a great example of how we are enabling a sustainable industry to develop by using our technology capabilities.
When we get into the world of polyethylene, this is pretty exciting for us. Today, we manufacture catalysts and catalyst support that are critical enablers to convert ethylene to polyethylene. We tailor the catalyst to the customer specific process and the desired end application. Without a catalyst, many of the items that we use every day in life will not be possible. For example, pipes in our homes used to move materials, packaging to transport and store liquids such as milk and plastic films used to protect food from air and contamination.
But the world has limited resources and polyethylene by its nature doesn’t easily biodegrade as such recycling is definitely the right thing to do and something that we fully support. What is challenging is how to recycle plastic waste cost effectively versus using virgin polyethylene. It starts with building the necessary collection infrastructure to collect and recycle plastic. LyondellBasell recently announced the construction of a 50,000 ton plastic recycling plant in Germany. This plant would require 1.2 million citizens to collect and send their plastic waste for recycling. That’s a lot of people for one plant that’s pretty small compared to a typical virgin polyethylene plant. The second challenge is the cost to process the recovered polyethylene.
Here’s where a catalyst can help. We’ve developed some pretty cool technology that supports the thermal pyrolysis of plastic waste. The pyrolysis process is very energy intensive. Zeolite based catalysts reduce the temperature at which pyrolysis occurs, and with that save the producer significant processing costs. Catalysts can also enable the processing of mixed, unseparated plastic waste, saving another cost of the processing step. Additionally, the use of high performing, very specific zeolites may result in a pyrolysis oil of improved quality versus that produced using a thermal process alone. This allows the producer to command a higher price for the product. We’ve got partnerships ongoing with several multinational companies that are going to commercialize their advanced recycling process using our zeolite based catalysts.
We expect many more processes to use and license that technology and this industry to be a key growth one for us in the future.
Yeah, that’s a great example, and I think certainly people in the industry and outside of the industry, we often think of catalysts and especially zeolite catalysts as being old. Old technology, old products. Yet, as you point out, 70 percent of your innovations are for new biobased and renewable technologies. I think that’s pretty significant because we often think that it’s an old technology. What future is there?
Zeolites at the end of the day, they’ve been around for a long time when you get into it. Known as stones, but very long ago and people got smart to know how can we make them synthetically. Let’s think of another industry, aviation. We look and I’m sure many of your listeners have heard the word sustainable aviation fuel. It’s the only way, in my opinion, that we can decarbonize the aviation industry with speed. Would we imagine flying around in a battery driven plane or a hydrogen fuel cell driven plane? Maybe at some point in the future, but not in the short to medium term. So what can you do? You can actually take the zeolites and modify them and create different structures. Now you start to get some really exciting things.
How do you take an alcohol and do a process called oligomerization, where you build the smaller molecules up to create a fuel that can burn in planes the same as what a normal kerosene type jet fuel would burn. Now, zeolites are enabling that. Zeolites are the technology that’s moving that forward. So there’s a lot of new innovation that’s happening that really makes a big difference.
If I share with you a second example that I’m quite excited about when you get into carbon capture. So we all know that the global warming situation means we have to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Generation home products, they’re typically liquid amines. You need temperature to release that CO2 afterwards and collect it for use.
What about using a silica? If I take one little teaspoon of a high porous silica and I opened all those pore channels out, one teaspoon would cover a football field, that’s pretty amazing. Now if we think of all those pore channels and all that structure, if it can absorb CO2, think of how much CO2 you can start to take out of the atmosphere or out of a chemical process.
So a lot of our focus at the moment is how can we use these advanced silicas, these unique materials and get them into things like recovery CO2 from power generation is a great example. Our generation generates a lot of CO2, be it natural gas burning or coal burning. CO2 is common. We’re working with companies to put that into a system to allow that CO2 to be absorbed. Then at an appropriate point, deabsorbed, collected and then maybe used for other chemical processes so that you take that CO2, not just deep well it, but actually get a chemical that’s a value from that. That to me is some pretty creative innovation technology.
I agree, and I think it’s critical. I think there’s a lot of concerns, when I start talking with people across the industry that, simply injecting the CO2 into a well is deferring a problem to the next generation. Frankly, I would prefer my kids not to have to deal with that issue. So figuring out solutions to actually put it back in use to be more proactive with these molecules is really critical.
Yeah, there’s some exciting projects. They all take time and effort and, we have the short term needs. We’ve still got to deliver results and still got to deliver value for our shareholders today. And we have to do the right things to build a sustainable business for tomorrow. My job at the end of the day is to strike that balance and do those actions, drive the organization to deliver the results, but also set the organization up for a long term success.
Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve recently hosted an investor conference where you announced the name change of your business from Catalyst Technologies to Advanced Materials and Catalysts, AMC. Can you explain the rationale?
We have a catalyst heart, we’ve been in catalyst production for many years. So that’s deeply ingrained in us. When I’ve also started to look at the portfolio and when we came together as a team and started to say, what can we use our materials for? We started to look and say, it’s not just the catalytic benefit that we’re using them for. The example that we’ve just talked about of CO2 and absorbing CO2, that’s not a catalyst, it’s an absorbent. We can also do things like metals, and if we want to take certain metals out of certain waste streams, advanced silica is very good at that. We can also look at how do we mobilize different things on an advanced silica. Then we can start to get into zeolites and how they purify water and how you can do different things with zeolites, not just the catalyst. So when you think about it, that’s not a catalyst, that’s an advanced material.
So it was a natural outcome of those dialogues to say, yes we’re catalysts, that’s our heart. But we also have this advanced material science capability, and this deep technology capability. So Advanced Materials and Catalysts, I use the phrase, if it looks like a fish, smells like a fish, and tastes like a fish, it probably is a fish. I think that name, Advanced Materials and Catalysts, exactly describes what we are.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m certain your investors appreciate that. What about your customers? Has it helped you in developing different relationships or deeper relationships with your customers? Are they more open to what you bring to the table?
Yeah I spend a lot of time visiting customers and maybe I go in and start the discussion talking about polyethylene and, after the first half an hour we’re talking about sustainable aviation fuel and then the second half an hour we’re talking about plastic circularity and then we finish off with carbon capture and the customers look and go, “Wow. How is this?” And basically it’s that we need to educate the name, we need to educate our brands. People still obviously hear the old name PQ that’s been out there and you think, is this pq? No, this isn’t PQ. PQ was separated. That’s a different company. This is EcoVyst, and it is where we are with our acid business and Advanced Materials and Catalyst business. We have to do a lot of education.
I’ve recently gone through a branding exercise with a team where we’ve developed new product brands. We developed the brand Opal that we’re using for our zeolites business and Alpha that we use for our advanced silicas business. And then we add some family names too depending upon what the functionality of the material is. Why did we do that? Because big companies know us, but in some of these new areas, they don’t know us. So we need to step up our marketing activities. We’re getting a lot more active on social media. You can find us more on LinkedIn. You can find the press releases where we’re talking about things.
You can go to our investor relations page and learn a bit more about us. So we’re having to do some education to make sure we are known and we’re selected as a partner of choice for these companies that are emerging.
Yeah, I think that’s a great point. In fact, emerging companies are really what’s driving a lot of the technology advancement in the industry. If you want to be at the heart of that technology advancement and really supporting it and being a partner for it, you have to be recognizable and appealing to those new companies.
You have to. My company’s success is driven by someone else’s success. I can develop the best catalysts in the world and the team can go out there and do all the best things in the world. But at the end of the day, if that customer isn’t successful licensing and building their business model, I get nothing. So it starts with that dialogue of what’s the problem? What is it that you’re trying to achieve? What is it that you need? A good example recently, biocatalysis. So there’s an awful lot of that’s gone on over the last 5 years, when it comes into how do you modify enzymes? So how can you change the genomes and the sequence so that the enzyme can basically take in a material and give out a different material that has more value? That’s great. It’s wonderful technology because enzymes, they don’t need high temperatures and pressures.
They tend to be ambient. They tend to have okay test profiles. They don’t have heavy metals and toxic metals in there. They tend to be fairly renewable. You can use them many times. One of the limitations is, how do you store an enzyme on a solid substrate and then transport it? How do you keep it in place so that it’s not separating every time? There you could use an advanced silica. So we could actually work with a company that’s looked and said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea of how I can use this enzyme. I want to convert synthetic sugars into some sort of sweetness. But I need a way of getting my enzyme to be accessible.”
Okay, let’s see how we can modify our silica. Let’s see what we can do to that structure that allows that to happen. We’ve gone from a situation where we started a project seven or eight months ago and we’ve just made the first commercial sales. You don’t typically see that in the catalyst world, that typically takes years. So there’s some pretty exciting things that are going on with new companies that are starting up.
Yeah, that is super exciting. And we started talking about this a little bit, just this striking balance between profitable growth today and then grow three to five years out, because let’s be honest, you’ve just given us an example where you got to a commercial sale within seven or eight months, and we know that’s rare. Maybe not rare, but it’s not as common as perhaps we would like it to be.
How do you strike that balance for the business between delivering what you need to deliver today to meet your cashflow needs, your business needs, your shareholder needs and the future and then balancing it with what the future of the company is?
You’re right. It’s not easy. We have to look at different business models. So for Ecovyst and Advanced Materials and Catalysts, we segment our different markets. For example, we have some markets that we’d call industrial, polyethylene would be a market or an application that would fit under that. There we’re looking at still very impressive growth when we look, we’re outpacing the market growth by a factor of two, but we have to work differently. We have to work on how do we develop incremental applications that help our customers be successful. We have to look at those customers that are likely to be winners in the market.
For example, in polyethylene, typically that North America or Middle East based where the feed stocks are the cheapest, and we have to partner with them the right way. Then we have to expand our capacity. As we expand our capacity and they expand the capacity, we grow that business that generates cash and generates profit, which is pretty important. Now, if you take that cash and that profit and use it to say, how do I invest in my emerging markets? So I’ve given those examples of biocatalysis, carbon capture, maybe we’ll talk a bit about advanced recycling in a minute. Those are emerging markets where, we’re having to spend time and effort and hire resources that bring the competencies and skills that are needed. For example, the fast teams focused acceleration of strategic targets. Would I do that in my industrial area? No, because then I’m more focused on tech service. I’m more focused on delivery and reliability. I’m more focused on quality.
Would I do that in the new business area? Yeah, because then I’m looking at how do I understand the market trends and the unmet needs? How do I work with these startup companies? How do I find these startup companies? It’s a different skill set and a different priority that we have to give because at the end of the day, it’s a longer term. Development cycle that we go through for those new businesses, so KPIs are different. For example, we might look at innovation pipeline and we might look at the speed through stage care. So at the end of the day, you end up managing different parts of the organization slightly differently. For me, it means that I just have to allocate my time appropriately and say today I’m focused more on new business development. Tomorrow I’m focused more on my industrial businesses. Both get time, but I have to change maybe how I approach it.
I like the analogy of a mentor that they gave me once, she said, look, you have to decide what clothes you’re wearing when you go into a meeting. Are you putting on the shirt and tie because you’re going into the boardroom and you’re going to be formal and proper and, go through all the details? Are you putting on your favorite jeans and a pair of sneakers and, being more casual because you’re trying to have a discussion? So depending upon that business need, I try and decide what clothes am I wearing and therefore what behaviors should I display? I think that’s the best way to manage those.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s maybe a good segue into talking about talent, so the war for talent is as strong as ever. We’ve seen across the industry, not just the chemical industry. It seems like all industries are really struggling to get the resources that they need. Two things strike me. Number one, as a chemical company and a catalyst company, which we’ve already referenced, a lot of people see as being a little bit old school. It’s harder to attract talent or it can be harder to attract talent. Then, Ecovyst is not a household name. As a midsize company finding the right talents can be challenging. How are you tackling that?
So we just started off our dialogue talking about how people helped myself develop from a young 18 year old that was washing test tubes back at the start all the way through to today leading a business, developing talent is just something that gives me so much joy, so much passion. It’s also one that causes probably this mostly gray hair that started to shine on through for the very reason that you’ve just said, finding, onboarding, retaining is so difficult. Now, we are a midsized company. We have historically had a private equity mindset, so we have been pretty lean on structures. We don’t have the sort of typical triangle. It’s very bottom down.
I acknowledge that. It’s not something that I can change overnight. So when we typically interview, we look for certain people that have certain characteristics. So we say, look, at the end of the day, we offer lots of challenge. We offer lots of opportunities, and tend to attract people that have a broader skill base rather than a depth base. The reason for that is because people pick up different projects and different things. They can’t go to an expert for everything, but we can help those people develop this way.
We can give them the tools, the exposure, the training to grow that way. Some people want that. Not everybody wants to be a deep scientist. Not everybody wants to be the CEO. So how do we openly talk about that with people? Secondly, during the interview process, you spend a lot more time talking about culture. Culture basically eats everything.
We say, look, here in our environment, we have a bias for action, a lot of willingness to try to take risk. We’ve got a commitment to learn. We have a culture where we’re a little bit chaotic, a little bit hectic, but very enjoyable, very rewarding. Is that the type of environment that you’re successful in? If it’s not, don’t come to us. Let’s be honest up front. If it is, let’s continue the dialogue and that dialogue then involves meeting different stakeholders, networking with those stakeholders, understanding, again, more about the company. Then I’d say the second step is really about onboarding. Once you’ve got a person that says, this is for me, I want to come and join you.
Great, come and join us. We have a very structured onboarding process, a very structured way of working together. Lots of check ins, probably too many check ins, to make sure we’re helping that person come in to the company and say, yeah, I’m actually being successful and yeah, I like it. I’m winning here. Once we get to that stage, it’s then about letting people embrace the culture and growing the culture a lot again. We do a lot more work on advertising ourselves and going through LinkedIn so we can get people to just know us a little bit more.
But really for us, it’s about finding the right person that fits in with who we are and what we can offer.
Yeah. Makes sense. So you’ve been in the industry for 30 plus years and have obviously had a lot of guidance and mentorship and variety as you’ve progressed through your career. What are your tips? What do you recommend to people that are entering a career in chemicals today?
If you’re entering chemicals, good choice. That’s where you should come. It’s an industry where you can have an amazing career. You can do so much. Just look at me. Guy from Bradford, lived in Singapore, lived in New York, lived in Michigan, lived in Philly, all these different places. Who would have thought that all those years ago? So do it. Now more on the some tips and some things.
Certainly on the top of my list is know what you want and what you’re prepared to give to get what you want. Companies can make things happen, but what they can’t actually do is say whether you’re prepared to do it. And that’s just not you, it’s you and your partner, you and your wife, you and your husband, you and your family. Have that dialogue with them. Be clear, be honest, be open and make sure everybody wants to do better and is prepared. Then when the opportunity comes along, the answer is yes, and when can we go? The second thing that I’d certainly highlight is build resiliency. So the resiliency is really important.
Don’t fear change, embrace it. What goes wrong? What’s the worst possible thing that happens if you make a bad decision? You suck something up for a few years. You say, I don’t like this. I’m going to take the learnings. I’m going to put up with that. You then say, Hey, I’m not going to do that again. I’m going to go do something different. I’m going to learn from it and move on.
Go back to point one. What are you prepared to do to get what you want? Then finally, I’d stress about mentors. Find good mentors. I love this phrase, steal and recycle with pride. People have gone through things in life and they’ll share that wisdom, that advice with you. They’re not bothered that you take it and use it, but they want someone to listen to them, to learn, and to come back and give feedback and talk to them. Show them that you’ve taken that learning and done something with it. Those mentors that are out there, I’ve got so many, I can be thankful for them, I’m really appreciative of how they’ve helped me develop.
Yeah, that’s awesome. I really like the the approach of, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? That was something I learned very early on from my parents when I faced some career changes and, you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to go what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? Oh and when you start dialing it back, you’re like, it’s okay. I can take this chance.
Yeah, exactly. It’s great. You can take that chance. Again, everyone’s in different situations in life, and everybody’s got different needs, and a chance for you, someone else could say it’s so extreme, they could never possibly do it. But that’s okay. Know what you want to get where you want to go. And as long as you’re clear on that, then the chances are okay. You’ll adjust.
That’s right. This has been really great. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and learning more about you and about Ecovyst. If people want to learn more about you or connect with you or Ecovyst and AMC, how can they do that?
So there’s a lot more going on in LinkedIn today. We spent a lot of time and effort upgrading our efforts there, like some of our posts, read some of the posts. You can learn an awful lot about a company if you go to that investor page on their website and see things that we’ve presented to the industry and from that go, this is something that I want to learn more about. If you want to learn more, reach out. My details are on LinkedIn. Send me a message. Happy to jump on a call for 10 or 15 minutes, and talk to you for a bit.
If you really go, this is serious for me, then we could arrange some dialogue with other people. At the end of the day, we want people to understand who we are in our brand and find people that want to come and work with us for the future.
Awesome. Thanks, Paul, for joining. This has been great to speak with you today.
Much appreciated for the opportunity and stay safe, Victoria.
Absolutely. And thank you, everyone, for reading. Keep reading, keep following, keep sharing, and we will talk with you again soon.
About Paul Whittleston
A native of the UK, yet almost half of his life spent living outside of the country, Paul Whittleston is a globally experienced high impact executive with a proven record of leading teams to define and drive change to deliver sustainable performance improvement.
Paul has achieved a progressive career at some of the worlds largest chemical companies including Ciba Specialty Chemicals, BASF, SI Group and most recently at Ecovyst. Paul has built his 30+ year career across many disciplines including technical, commercial, marketing, operations, supply chain and corporate functions in industries as varied as Water & Paper Treatment, Lubricants, Fuels, Coatings and Catalysts. Married to Claire for 20 years and with 2 teenage girls, Paul and his family currently reside in the Philadelphia area.