Listen to the Key Themes from AFPM 2024 Here:

Navigating through the maze of the chemical industry’s future, The Chemical Show’s latest episode captures the essence of the AFPM IPC 2024 with host Victoria Meyer. With the highest attendance since pre-COVID times, robust discussions, and critical networking, Victoria unpacks the cautious optimism in the industry, underlining a year that started strong despite evident challenges. Victoria delves into the pressing themes identified at the conference: the focused lens on supply chain complexities post unexpected incidents, the drive for global policy harmonization to foster balanced markets, and the imperative of ethical leadership influencing industry directions.

The Chemical Show discusses the most pressing narratives from the AFPM IPC 2024: insights for the need for resilient supply chains, calls for collaborative and rational policy-making, and the unwavering request for ethical stewardship in management. 

Join us this week to learn more about the following:

  • Four key themes from AFPM IPC
  • Cautious optimism in the chemical industry
  • Supply chain in focus
  • Global harmonization
  • Ethical leadership

Additional Link:

Episode 63: Leveraging Partnerships: Innovation And Delivering Solutions With Gulay Serhatkulu Of BASF

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Watch Victoria Discuss AFPM’s Key Themes This Year on Youtube Here:

Key Themes from AFPM 2024

Hi, this is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This is Episode 158, and it’s a short episode reflecting on the key themes coming out of the recent AFPM IPC 2024. IPC, if you don’t know, stands for International Petrochemical Conference. It’s held every year in San Antonio, Texas. Great attendance this year. In fact, per Rob Benedict of AFPM, this was the strongest attendance since pre-COVID.

This is one of those conferences where there’s a lot of… I like to call it speed dating. You guys know the one. The opportunity to see lots and lots of people, leaders, and companies and go from meeting to meeting to meeting. It can be a little overwhelming. But also a lot of business takes place, a lot of action happens.

It’s the complete opposite, by the way, of The Chemical Summit, which if you guys don’t already know is being held on October 8th and 9th this year in Spring Texas. The focus of The Chemical Summit is thought leadership, connections, and insights that you can actually apply. It is a really unique opportunity to get some great thought leadership.

Not just from the people on the stage, but from the people in the room, engaging with your industry peers at a much deeper level. It is definitely going to sell out this year. We have launched the tickets, quietly. The tickets are open right now. Get your tickets early because they will not be there if you’re waiting until late. So anyway,, and agendas, speakers, and topics are being put together. It’s going to be great.

So turning more to AFPM IPC, four themes emerge that I’m going to talk about and share with you today. Those four themes are cautious optimism, supply chain in focus, global harmonization, and then ethical leadership. So I’m going to tackle each one of these in turn.

Cautious Optimism

So the first thing is cautious optimism. That seems to be the market sentiment. When I talk to companies,  first of all, there was no real highs and lows, which I guess is a good thing.

Many companies stated that they actually started the year pretty strong. They are cautiously optimistic about the year. Now, remember there is a strong US presence and definitely a European presence, less so from Asia. Part of that I think is still travel challenges for many folks. But when you look at it, these are global companies that I’m speaking with, many companies started January strong, they see that they’re recovering from the de-stocking of 2023 and that the first quarter was pretty okay.

So I would call it cautiously optimistic and some tempered enthusiasm about what the year holds. Growth is expected at a pretty moderate rate. Again, tempered and cautionary because at the same time we’ve heard that there are some companies that are quietly laying off people. There’s still certainly a lot of financial discipline in focus for the year, but by and large, companies are cautiously optimistic. What I would say is, nothing earthshaking and no big surprises.

However, the last day of the AFPM IPC that changed a bit because the big surprise was on the morning of March 26th when the cargo ship Dali crashed into the Baltimore Bridge killing several people tragically and decimating the bridge. I’m sure by now we’ve all seen the pictures and the images from that came from that.

Supply Chain in Focus

Then of course, impeding traffic in and out of that port for months. That really brings me to the second theme of the conference that I picked up, which is really around supply chain in focus.

So we’ve talked about this a couple of times already this year on The Chemical Show. This expectation that we were back to smooth sailing, so to speak, and yet we’re seeing a lot of supply chain challenges. Really in many ways, these are knock-on effects from the outages and the restrictions that one port has on the entire global supply chain. A couple of people who expressed a little bit of surprise, but then also some greater understanding about what’s really going on. Really what we’re seeing from a supply chain perspective is not so much the direct impact. In fact, one person’s like, “Well, the Panama Canal is not that big of a deal. Is it?”

Oh yes, it is. Go back and listen to Episode 152, which is on the Red Sea and the Panama Canal Shipping Issues and Resolutions, where I talked to Farid from NUCO Logistics.

We’re seeing significant challenges, obviously from the Panama and the Suez Canals. And now we’re seeing challenges that are going to be arising potentially from the Baltimore Port. Again, not always directly related. If we take the Baltimore Port, for instance, obviously it’s still pretty early days, what the full on effect of this is going to be on the chemical industry supply chain is probably not fully clear.

But what we know is that each one of these outages has a knock on effect for the rest of the marine movement in and out of other ports and in and out of other shipping lanes.

So what we’ve seen is (1) extended transit time, which of course then correlates to (2) higher inventory, (3) higher working capital requirements and really the (4) need for precision. Like it or not, the supply chain is going to be in focus for the remainder of 2024.

Global Harmonization

Our third theme was around the need for global resilience, harmonization, and balance. This actually came up really in our onstage speakers, which again, when we talk about AFPM IPC, it is speed dating for many people. AFPM brings a really great slate of topics to their main stage, bringing speakers and panels in. Unfortunately, they’re not as well attended as any of us would really hope, given the amount of insight and effort that they put into it and the expertise that these people bring in. When I talk about this, one of the things that came through was this need for strong global markets and economies.

Chris Krebs, who was one of the speakers, is former CISA member, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. He spoke about digitization and AI and cybersecurity. That was one element of what he talked about, but he also talked about, the reality is when you look at our global economic environment, economic, geopolitical, our global world. We really need a strong Asia, Europe, and North America.

Let’s boil it down, China, Europe, and U.S. We need strong markets and economies in focus and in balance. So we’ve got a lot of trade tensions going on. We’ve obviously got some concerns about Chinese growth and the Chinese economy, but the reality is we need the globe in balance and we need our markets to be in balance and we need to create harmonization across that. So that was one touch point on that. The second piece that came through and Peter Huntsman spoke at the event and he called for a

true European industrial policy: to combat industry, de-industrialization, to be more pragmatic about decarbonization.

And of course we heard a little bit of this harmonization at WPC.

I talked about that last week on The Chemical Show and just this need for unification, maybe not unification of policy, but certainly alignment and harmonization. There’s always going to be some differences and that’s okay, but we want harmonization as well. One of the things that we talk about, is the fact that numerous plants and assets have shut down in the past two years in Europe in particular. Their current policies are anti-industry.

Let’s just call a spade a spade, especially when we look at some of the decarbonization requirements, greenhouse gas emissions requirements, other policies that are getting put in place, particularly around sustainability. Appropriate in some ways, but when you look at the bigger picture, we’re killing off industries were killing off business. It’s making European companies less cost effective, harder to compete and ultimately shutting down business, which is bad for Europe and its people. It’s really bad for the globe when you think about the need and the longterm effect of having strong economies around the globe, balanced industries and more.

So that’s the third thing that I want to emphasize is this need for global resilience, harmonization and balance.

Ethical Leadership

Then that ties in, in some ways, to my fourth theme. I think this is one that I’m not sure everybody would say they picked up at AFPM, but I think it’s one that comes through and it was certainly spoken about on stage. And this is around leadership and ethical leadership.

So if I tie back to this European industrial policy that we just talked about a moment ago, that is a European leadership issue that frankly the call from stage was, we need leaders to step up and be leaders and make decisions that are robust for business and people and for the fundamental effects that you want to have. Right?

So industrial policy, rational decarbonization, rational decision making, those were all calls for European leadership. I would say we want those same calls for leadership around the globe. One of the topics that was on the main stage again and it’s also a topic that I pick up in sidebar conversations in the one on one meetings is around ethical leadership.

So Gulay Serhatkulu from BASF led a talk about ethical leadership. Very insightful. Gulay is a great leader. In fact, if you have not heard her episode of The Chemical Show yet, you should do that. She was on Episode 63: Leveraging Partnerships, Innovation, and Delivering Solutions. Great episode and some great insights about Gulay and who she is as a leader and how she’s developed her career and what’s really important.

This theme of leadership is really critical and it’s one that is always in focus. And if it’s not always in focus, it should be in focus. So I think the chemical industry is filled with great leaders, setting a great example, expecting high levels of leadership and standards from those around us.

The ethical leadership piece of this was really about putting people into management and leadership positions who will promote and be an example of ethical, appropriate conduct in their actions and relationships in the workplace. To me, it’s really about putting your personal values into leadership. It’s about allowing people to question decisions appropriately. That’s sometimes hard. Understanding that the decisions that you’re making need to be moral and ethical and serving your company appropriately, the country appropriately, the industry appropriately. So it’s a bit of this, not being single minded. We’ve had a few examples of bad actors this year. I don’t know enough details.

If you want to ask me about that, I’ll can share what I know. But I think this aspect of leadership and this call for leadership within the industry, outside the industry and influencing it is a theme that I’m picking up a little bit more this year. I saw that in AFPM IPC, I certainly picked up on some of that at WPC and I think we’ll be seeing more of it as the year progresses.

So those are my four themes and some of the things I observed and heard at AFPM IPC, how about you? What did you hear? If you were at that conference or if you have colleagues that attended, shoot me an message, send me a message on LinkedIn, shoot me an email, I would love to hear from you. And if you are not already subscribing to The Chemical Show. Definitely do so.

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