Jennifer McIntyre and Kelly Gilroy came to the chemical industry at different points in their lives. Jennifer started young, having been surrounded by a family who was already in the field. Kelly bloomed late, finding a connection to the industry while attending banking school. However different, both found value in the opportunities of creating a difference in chemicals through Univar Solutions. In this episode, they join Victoria Meyer to tell us about their careers and how they grew into their roles in the company—Jennifer as the Senior Vice President and Chief People and Culture Officer, and Kelly as the Vice President of Sustainable and Natural Products. They share how they create their own unique company culture that puts importance on the employee, customer, and supplier experiences and how they go about digital transformation and sustainability.
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On Creating A Unique Culture, Digital Transformation, And Sustainability In The Chemical Industry With Jennifer McIntyre and Kelly Gilroy, Univar Solutions
In this episode, I am speaking with Jennifer McIntyre and Kelly Gilroy from Univar Solutions. Jennifer is the Senior Vice President, Chief People and Culture Officer, and has had the roles at Univar since January of 2021. She’s held a number of senior roles at Univar, including Chief Integration Officer of Univar Solutions where she successfully led the integration of Univar and Nexeo Solutions. That was a pretty big deal. She’s had a long history in the chemical industry at companies, including Dow and Rohm and Haas.
Kelly is the VP of Sustainable and Natural Products. She leads the development of in commercialization of sustainable and natural ingredients across Univar Solutions. She has a wealth of experience in personal care and other product areas at Univar, as well as, has a lot of experience from Lubrizol and Ecolab. I’m excited to get to chance to talk to these wonderful leaders here in the chemical industry. Jen and Kelly, welcome to the show.
Thanks. We’re happy to be here.
I’m glad to have you here. What is your origin story? Maybe let’s start with Jen. How did you get interested in the chemical space, and then what brought you to Univar?
It’s two things. 1) I was naturally good at Math and Science. I was encouraged at my high school to pursue a career in engineering. 2) I’m from a family of people who’ve worked in the chemical industry. My grandfather worked his entire career at Rohm and Haas. I had uncles who also worked there. It was an industry that I was familiar with. When I was hired out of college, the company that I wanted to work for was Rohm and Haas because it was pretty deep in our family history.
For me, hiring into that company set me on a path of caring deeply about the safety and the environment because it’s that blueprint you get when you come out of college. That was formative for me. In addition to having responsibility for people in culture at Univar Solutions, I also have responsibility for ESG. It’s a natural fit for me to have that whole envelope of responsibility. You also asked me how did I get to Univar Solutions.
I had worked for 21 years for Rohm and Haas, and we were bought by Dow Chemical. I worked for four years for Dow. It was during that time that I worked for Dow that I got to know and appreciate distribution. I ran the solvent supply chain for Dow Chemical. Distribution is an incredibly important channel to market for the solvent business at Dow. I had the opportunity to learn a lot about it and see where the opportunities were. When I was approached by Univar to join, I could see how I could create value for them. It was a unique opportunity. That’s how I ended up here.
Thank you for sharing that. Kelly, how about you? What is your origin story? You’ve also spent a large part of your career in the chemical industry. How did you get here?
It’s a different route. Jen started early and I was a late bloomer. I studied Accounting in college and I’m a CPA. I was studying Accounting because I was at a school that was good at Accounting. The practical side of me said, “I’ll always have a job.” I started at JPMorgan Chase. My pattern in life was to start in finance and end up over on the business side.
I went to a banking school. I ended up working for a customer, the same thing, started in finance and went over to the line and that’s why I love chemicals because in chemicals I went right to the business side. I started at Nalco Chemicals at Nalco Company, which is now Ecolab. They were going through a merger and needed someone in Chicago.
Not only did I get to learn chemistry, but I also had my first full-time sales job. When you’re in banking, we call ourselves relationship managers. What I had skills in was solving complex problems and negotiating with lots of different stakeholders. In banking, I always wanted to be where we were making something. Chemicals did that. There’s a lot of innovation here and connectivity.
I was excited to join Univar because I had come up through the supplier side. When you get into a company like Univar Solutions that has lots of opportunities, you have maybe 5 or 10 solutions for customer problems. Whereas at a supplier, you tend to have a good solution for your product. Univar opened my world to what I could do for customers. It’s been many great years.
It’s interesting that you started in banking because I don’t think of people making the leap from banking, finance, and that world into the chemical industry. A bit hands-off and clean industry into a hands-on industry. That is a big leap.
It’s been a lot of fun, but a lot of the same skills. I like to be on the customer side. I love the language of finance, so I can help our customers know how they’re going to make money, same thing on the supply side. I look at accounting as a language that connects us all. As I move into sustainability, we need to find ways where we can grow sustainably. We’ve got to make money, but often that comes with an investment too. It’s working well in this new role as well.Sometimes, we want to stay in our lane when in fact, the things that you're really good at can transfer over. Click To Tweet
There has to be a case for action in a business case. People aren’t going to make a change, buy a product or take on a new initiative just because it’s fun. It’s got to make business and financial sense to yourself, customers, suppliers, et cetera. See that connection. Jen, you’ve spent a big part of your career in the supply chain, and yet now you lead people and company culture for Univar. Was that a stretch? It feels like a stretch and then again not. What’s your perspective on that?
It’s important that people recognize how highly transferable skills are. Sometimes we want to stay in our lane when in fact, the things that we’re good at can transfer over. For me, everything has a process and there’s data behind everything. If you can bring process and data, which is something that I would’ve brought through operations and supply chain, but bring that over to our human capital, it adds a lot of value. That’s transferable.
One of the things that I’ve loved about being at Univar Solutions is that it’s a company where you have a lot of opportunities. I have spent a lot of my time at Univar Solutions on people-centered solutions. Particularly, when we did the integration focusing on company culture. It was something that was important to take the culture of Univar and Nexeo Solutions, and how do we come together to create our own unique company culture versus one or the other? What I’ve said to people is, “It wasn’t my aspiration to be a chief human resources officer.” In a way, I was interviewing for it for my entire career because it’s always been so central to who I am.
What’s on Univar’s people and culture agenda? It seems like you’re in a bit of a transformation.
It’s pretty common to what’s on a lot of companies’ people and culture agenda these days. I would say company culture. The reason it’s part of my title is that culture is important. How do we think about company culture? We’ve been mindful of that and set ourselves on a journey there. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to us. We hear growth and development for our employees consistently. That’s what people are looking for. Generally speaking, it’s employee experience and how they go about their day. Things are easy to do. They feel valued in their contribution. We’re underscoring because I think about the things we’re working on, and coming back to my transferable skills with data and technology are important.
Kelly, how is this manifesting? What is the Univar culture to you? What is the change that you see happening, inside the Univar?
First of all, the company culture that we have now is different than when I arrived many years ago. What’s different is that bringing your authentic self to work is not only expected but applauded. That’s been a great change because we have great people here. I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of people because of my roles. If you work in the same office, you don’t know that. As we get more authentic, we keep getting better. It’s employee-led. We’ve probably always done a survey, but we do a much better job of giving the results and making sure that everybody, whether you are driving trucks in LA or here in corporate, knows that your voice was heard.
This is how we’ve been doing business, but The Nexeo-Univar integration gave us an opportunity to put that front and center. It’s a noticeable difference. I am often at meetings with people that have been here for six months. How many people did we hire during COVID? Hundreds. They had never met anyone. It’s fun to see. I know our company culture has changed because the people who just arrived here describe us perfectly. The people that might have been here for many years, like myself, you can see how we didn’t get rid of it, but we allowed people to step into the culture they said they wanted. Who doesn’t want to work for a company that’s trying to let the employees lead the best way to run the company?
What you said there about the new employees being able to describe what your vision was is key because it’s easy to say things, “We’re people-centered. We’re this. We’re that.” It’s easy to say those things. It’s different to live it, realize it, and have people recognize themselves in that.
It brings full circle what Kelly was talking about as far as the employee saying, giving you feedback, and then applying it. One of the pieces of feedback that came through was that our employees wanted to get more involved in the communities where we live and work. We put together a whole program called Community Bonds that we have a playbook on and how we can locally get involved with our communities through either our functional teams or our locations to participate in community events. We were able to get that stood up and rolled out. We see our employees having a lot more opportunities. That’s a good example.
People want the ability to do that. Univar is quite distributed. You’ve got many people in many different locations serving a large number of product areas and markets, etc. It’s challenging to instill company culture across that variety of locations as well as in the last two years with the pandemic and the rise in distributed working, everybody being online, not showing up to an office, and not building culture together. It can be tricky. How do you make that work in a distributed organization?
It’s a good call out because it was one of the biggest differences for me in joining Univar versus my experience in working for a supplier where you have a much more finite set of locations. You’d have a location, you had 2,000 employees. At Univar Solutions, we don’t have a lot of locations of that great size. We’ll have locations with 1,520 employees. One hundred of those spread around. It does create a unique challenge to get almost anything done, but culture is at the top of the list of things that are challenges. It takes time. You need to be deliberate. We put together a framework around our culture that is around preserved.
Those are things that we loved about the company culture that we wanted to make sure we held true, things that we were working on that we wanted to strengthen, and then things that we thought we needed to transform and all of that came from the employee feedback that Kelly was mentioning earlier. We have quarterly webcasts where we’ll share that with our employees. We have local focus groups where we have conversations, but you have to be consistent. Leaders need to model the behavior and then you need to keep finding ways to improve continually. It’s a village.
This focus on processes, data, and being able to use that and create some standards, where does digital fit for you guys? One of the other things people talk a lot about is digital transformation, digital digitization, and the evolution that we’re in. How does that look for Univar?These days, bringing your authentic self to work is not only expected but applauded. Click To Tweet
We’re leading in the distribution space in terms of the investments that we’ve made in digital. Our entire back office is on one common ERP platform, and that’s true for the Americas. The last place we’re going to go live is in Brazil. That’ll be at the end of the year. but we’ll be on one common platform across the Americas. That’s one consistent way of doing work. That was hard fought. That is not an easy thing to do for anyone. You hear terrible stories about SAP conversions and such.
Once you do that, you create the opportunity to then digitize the customer and supplier experience because now you have a consistent way of all of your transactions flow and it gives you the opportunity to do some cool things. We are rapidly growing, our digital participation by our customers. That’s our next frontier and it’s exciting, but I’ll let Kelly maybe say some more about it.
Kelly, what’s your perspective?
Over on the commercial side, we invested early. We tend to do the big customers were asking, but most of our business is small to medium size. We are ahead of the curve there, but Jen talks a lot about the integration of the SAP system. Not only was that the right thing to do and it’ll be challenging, but it gave us an opportunity to say, “Where can we take a load off?”
We know that when we survey our customers, they love their customer service and colleagues at Univar Solutions. How can we help them not only get through a big training exercise because SAP was new for at least half of our company? One bottleneck we saw was customer service gets a lot of inbound calls like, “Where’s my stuff? Where’s this product? When’s this going to be here? That’s great. That’s what we’re here for.”
That’s the majority of calls in every customer center across the industry.
One of my favorite early moves by our digital team was that we created an app called Where’s My Stuff?. I’m not very digital, but a customer could self-serve, go online, and say, “It’s on the truck. It hasn’t left the warehouse yet.” Not only did that help us get more customers online so that they can self-serve when they want to. We’re putting it out there for when they’re ready, but it helped our customer service group too, because looking up on a computer where something is and giving it back, there’s not a lot of value added there.
We support our colleagues to get to the heart of the matter versus looking up things that are already online. As we hire people to help us in this area, they come with a whole different set of experiences. They help us even with the Where’s My Stuff? because these are experts in digital and what a digital customer wants. It’s been fun learning that side of the process.
I talked to someone who talked about digital natives versus analog natives. We’re all probably of a similar generation. We grew up in the analog age, but our new employees, suppliers, and customers are all digital natives. The Millennials, the next generation of who we’re bringing on in our organizations are comfortable with everything being digital.
Frankly, all the consumer and product stuff that we work with, whether it be Amazon, Target, or UPS, everything is telling you when your stuff is arriving or where is it. You can figure out that it gets stuck in St. Louis because it always gets stuck in St. Louis or wherever. On a personal level, we’re all used to being able to see that level of information. It makes sense that in the chemical industry, where we have so much data, knowledge, and know-how we deliver it to our customers easily.
We continue to do that. As we get better on the whole website, they can tell where you are. If you’re in the US or over in the UK, you’ll see more and more because we are a big business, but we service locally. We want that experience, whether it’s virtually, face-to-face, or digitally to be targeted to the customer in their local environment.
Let’s talk about the customer experience. This is a good segue. Everybody across the industry and certainly most distributors I talk to say, “What’s the difference?” “It’s the relationships.” We all have relationships. We all have good people. Some people have better people than others or are different. The reality is that there is a different customer experience. We know that there’s a differentiation between companies. What’s the Univar difference? What makes Univar’s customer experience unique and different from its competitors?
There are good parallels between our employee and customer experience. We are actively listening to our customers. We send our NPS monthly. Different customers get it each month. We have a full feedback loop where the insights that come from our NPS feedback go to the right to our sellers, customer service, or any group that maybe if there was a less than a great experience. They also get to hear about great experiences. It runs all the way with Customer 360.
In addition to their feedback, we also have all of our internal metrics that I could look up right here and right now a customer and be able to see how we have done on available to promise on products that they’ve requested on-time delivery for the last X number of orders, payment processing, and every metric that we know matters to our customers, we can see in one place for that customer. It’s helpful for us to see where we need to drive improvement, but also for our salespeople, as they’re having conversations with their customers and finding their pain points. We’re always looking for feedback and trying to find ways to on it.If the world is going to achieve the goals that we know we need to achieve, we need to act with urgency and always keep our eyes open around where the opportunities are. Click To Tweet
You are in the middle in a lot of ways between the producers and the end user. How does customer experience tie to supplier experience or the whole net effect?
We play an important role in the industry. We take complexity and absorb it as a company. Our customers often have complex needs. Our suppliers have complex manufacturing facilities. They can’t do that and satisfy the complex needs of many different customers. You’d be surprised, maybe at some of the complex requests, from colors of drums to the amount in each drum.
There are a lot of varying degrees of requests, but we sit in the supply chain to absorb all of that complexity for both sides of that equation. It makes the role incredibly challenging. It’s something I love about it because Kelly talked about problem-solving. Kelly and I are problem solvers. If you’re a problem solver, this is a great place to work because you’re constantly having to find the resolution between those two parties.
Because we sit in the middle, we get a lot of information from our customers. They’re telling us what they want. We’re good, to Jen’s point, on taking a lot of data complex, unique data, and getting it to a point where we can take that back to our suppliers and say, “Customers are looking for A, B, and C.” As they’re managing their own innovation pipeline, it helps them to say, “This is what’s happening in the market,” because, to Jen’s point, the suppliers have a certain amount of bandwidth for customers.
We pride ourselves on being the best extension of not only their salesforce but their marketing and technology as well. When you think about what we’re talking about here, digital, we are all home for two years. Communication is decentralized now. What we’re in business in the middle to do is make sure that our customers, who are our number one priority, are getting what they need and that we have the suppliers well informed so they can deliver to our customer’s promises.
Let’s talk about sustainability. This is your focus. Sustainability is critical. It seems like it’s becoming more important nowadays. Given the complexity of your supply chains, the variety of principles and suppliers that you have, and the variety of products, it’s a lot to navigate. What’s your approach to this?
I will start corporately. Jen hasn’t even bragged about our good results, but in 2021, we reported well above all of our metrics and we put out our new metrics, which are a 20% reduction by 2025 in our scope 1 and 2s and another 40% by 2030. I’m on the commercial side of what we call sustainability at Univar Solutions. We have a phenomenal 2021 report that’s over 80 pages. The team did a great job with an executive summary. That is a great learning tool for all of us at Univar Solutions, not to mention our customers and suppliers. Knowing our metrics and what we’re doing internally puts us in a great position to do what I do, which is helping our customers on their sustainability journeys.
We recently pulled a global audience and learned that sustainability is more than 90% of either extremely important, very important, or somewhat important. It’s a hot topic. What we’re doing now is making sure that all of our salespeople, product management people, and customer service reps can talk the talk because Univar Solutions put their first sustainability report out in 2008.
Our challenge and opportunity are that we have been sustainable, but we haven’t been talking about it in terms of sustainability. A lot of what I’m doing is leveraging what we’re already doing and packaging it up in a manner that our customers can take advantage of it. The first thing we’re doing is looking at a framework so that we can characterize sustainability at the product level. There’s nothing like this nowadays in the market. We want to be the ones to set that stage. It will change.
We’re putting a stake in the ground, but when a customer says, “What do you have that’s sustainable?” we can say, “Let’s go online.” We have six characteristics. That not only enable our customers to achieve their goals, but it opens that conversation up with our suppliers who are also on different journeys. We have some of the biggest chemical companies in the world far along in their journey. We have some suppliers that have one product in terms of sustainability. This is how they’re launching into the chemical industry.
It’s been amazing to see that collaboration because Univar Solutions, as one company, can’t solve the sustainability challenge by ourselves, but we’re right in the middle of that value chain. When we do what we say we do, which is a core value of Univar Solutions, everybody wins. When we reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions, we deliver lower scope 3 to our customers. Our scope threes are primarily from our suppliers. If we can work collaboratively to get their scope 1 and 2 lower, that flows right to us. I’m hopeful about where we’re going as an industry. It is a big part of the whole sustainability challenge and we’re well positioned.
You guys are in the middle of that value chain. Figuring out how to parse, quantify, and carry that information across the way is critical. The other piece that’s interesting is that you guys have had a sustainability report since 2008. One of the things there’s been a blind spot in the chemical industry because there’s always been a focus on safety and sustainability is a lot around efficiency as well when we think about it. Inherently, as a company and as an industry, we want to be efficient.
There’s always been a lot of circularities inside of a manufacturing process because it’s efficient and cost-effective. Part of the challenge is that narrative and figuring out what the narrative is. As you’re talking about putting it in the hands of your customer-facing staff, your supplier-facing staff, so that you can talk about it, have an impact on it, and recognize the positive effects. Frankly, the areas that need work, but being more holistic about it is important.
It’s all about transparency. Many of our suppliers have excellent data and we want to be a forum for our customers to access that data the way they want to access that data.
What is next for you and Univar? Where are you guys heading?
We’ve laid out clear goals. They’re aspirational but achievable. Always the most important starting point is to do that and create your strategy of how you’re going to achieve it. We’re very much in driving for execution and trying to continue to make the improvements every year. An example, we invest $3 million a year in low-carbon technology. That is an ongoing driving execution towards realizing our longer-term 2025 and 2030 goals. We have eight different sets of goals. Each one of them has a plan for how we achieve it. Staying on top of that is an important focus area.
The third thing I would say is that this space is constantly changing. Staying on top of the innovation, both from a supplier perspective and the portfolios that are available, but also the low carbon technology and how things are changing. Kelly was in LA to start up our new electric truck for delivery, but that’s from innovation. I’m going to be there to see it myself. It’s going to be constantly changing. If the world is going to achieve the goals that we know we need to achieve, we need to act with urgency and always be keeping our eyes open around where the opportunities are.
Thanks for joining me. I appreciate having you on the show.
Thanks for having us.
Thanks for the opportunity.
You’re welcome. Thanks, everyone, for reading. Keep reading, following, and sharing. We’ll talk to you soon.
About Jennifer Mclyntre
Ms. McIntyre became Senior Vice President, Chief People and Culture Officer in January 2021 after serving as Senior Vice President, Chief Streamline Officer, and Head of North American Operations. Previously, Ms. McIntyre served as Senior Vice President and Chief Integration Officer of Univar Solutions where she successfully led the integration of Univar and Nexeo Solutions following the March 2019 acquisition. Ms. McIntyre joined Univar in June 2013 as Vice President, Regional Supply Chain, and led the Company’s Supply Chain Operations for the USA business from December 2014 to December 2017. In January 2018, Ms. McIntyre was promoted to Senior Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Operations Officer.
Ms. McIntyre has more than 25 years of experience in the chemical manufacturing industry and served in several senior leadership positions at Rohm and Haas, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company that manufactures specialty chemicals, and with The Dow Chemical Company, one of the world’s largest chemical manufacturers. She currently serves on the board of Hoover CS, a leading provider of sustainable packaging and fleet management solutions. Ms. McIntyre earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Drexel University and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Drexel University.
About Kelly Gilroy
Kelly Gilroy, VP Sustainable & Natural Products is an experienced business leader who delivers sustainable growth by prioritizing a collaboration between people and the plant. Driven by continuous improvement and a commitment to learning, Kelly currently leads the development and commercialization of sustainable and natural ingredients across Univar Solutions.
Kelly supports customers on their sustainability journeys and works closely with the Univar Solutions global supplier base to identify markets and opportunities to launch innovative ingredients that meet evolving market, regulatory and societal expectations. Prior to this role, Kelly led a $500M Global Beauty & Personal Care team to double-digit growth after running our US business. Prior to Univar Solutions, Kelly held specialty chemical and ingredient sales and marketing roles at Lubrizol and Ecolab.
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