Ed SparksPresident, Titanium Technologies and Chemical Solutions
From his days running operations to his more recent tenure leading sales, Ed has worked to consistently improve teams. He’s taken that drive and channeled it into his role, where he’s passionate about solving customer problems and growing the company.
Ed believes in the importance of understanding customer growth strategies by cultivating a deep understanding of their processes, strategies, and drivers. The key to growth is learning what drives customers' successes—what makes them special and how they deploy those things to grow their businesses—and then converting it into a business opportunity from which everyone benefits.
Q: You've been a leader in both operations and sales. What's the common thread?
A: One of the commonalities I saw—and this surprised me about the sales role—is how much problem solving there is. I came up in a technically intense operations environment, and a lot of what you do as an engineer and leader is help teams solve problems. That’s also what I loved about sales. Early on, I was working with one of our largest global customers and figured out it’s also problem-solving—working to help the customer with an issue.
Then there’s the secret sauce: how do you convert that solution into business value? That was really such an intriguing mix for me.
Everyone knows salespeople form bonds with their customers. The same goes for operations. One of the things I loved about operations leadership was developing relationships with people—earning credibility—to help better their performance. If you’re credible and work hard to understand their business, you form a relationship with customers that allows you to create business value in ways you otherwise couldn’t.
Q: The Chemical Solutions business is growing. What's the short- and long-term outlook?
A: In the short term, we’re starting to see market conditions that will give us the ability to extract higher value from our products than in recent years. The longer-term driver involves a couple of key capacity investments. We’ve upgraded our plant in Belle, West Virginia to make more glycolic acid and we've opened a new plant in Gómez Palacio, Mexico, to produce solid sodium cyanide.
In terms of corporate strategy, we’re seeing Chemical Solutions as a technology incubator—a place to introduce many different, quality chemical businesses that would be new to the company. We’ve developed a scalable operating model for Chemical Solutions to help us build Chemours overall.
Q: How does Chemours' Chemical Solutions business impact the world?
A: Let’s look at one product line. Our Mining Solutions business supplies solid sodium cyanide to the gold mining industry. You hear cyanide and think scary. But there is no effective, efficient way to get gold out of rock without using solid sodium cyanide. Without our product, gold miners couldn’t do what they do.
It’s a prime example of how we bring tremendous value to the world—handling dangerous substances safely and allowing our customers to create business value from what we do.
Q: What makes Chemours stand out in the industry?
A: We have an ability to take this company and unleash its full potential in ways that are hard to match in chemicals today. Cost cutting was critical for us in the early years to help us transform and achieve fiscal health.
Now we’re generating cash, which allows us to think about investing and reinvesting in these businesses in a way that, several years ago, we couldn’t even envision. We’ve reached a point where we can consider a broad portfolio of organic growth investments company-wide. That’s an opportunity not every company gets.
To be able to take a company that struggled with viability and make it a tremendous growth story—that’s the kind of thing few people get to do in their careers. The credit goes beyond just our willingness, our eagerness to innovate and grasp new opportunities. It’s also the way we continually challenge how we do business and try to find better ways to help our customers grow their businesses.
We're seeing our customers depend upon our products to help meet their needs and grow their enterprises in a way that’s unprecedented across the four businesses—Titanium Technologies, Thermal & Specialized Solutions, Advanced Performance Materials and Chemical Solutions. You get there by providing the best solution for your customers—providing them great value and the confidence to grow with us.
Q: How has the Chemours core value—Customer Centered— factored into your work?
A: I love the notion that you must grow your customer’s business to grow your own. To me, being Customer Centered means I work to understand our customers’ growth strategies by cultivating a deep understanding of their processes, strategies, and drivers. You learn what drives their success and what makes them special—and then you look at how they deploy those things to grow their business. From there, you figure out how to convert that into a business opportunity for you.
I remember when I first called on this one client. I wanted to be their best business consultant; I wanted to show them all the different strengths we can offer to help them win. And not just by selling them a product, but by making them think about all the complementary capabilities we can bring that might fulfill a need or answer a question.
Q: Why should someone consider joining Chemours?
A: Chemours will give you the opportunity to realize potential you didn’t even know you had. And you’re going to do it while we reach our potential as a company. We’ve created a culture that encourages employees to see connectivity between their excellence and company results. If you join Chemours now, you can be part of the next leg of that journey—where we go from transformation to rapid growth. And that growth won’t be in just the financial numbers but in the capabilities of the Chemours team.
We value Collective Entrepreneurship, where people think of this not as a $6 billion company but as a small business they own. Many companies our size are bureaucratic and very hierarchical. You’ll have a hard time making an impact there. But if your mindset is ‘I want to be an entrepreneur; I want to help this business become really special,’ you’ll have that opportunity at Chemours. If you join us, you’ll look back on this experience as one of the best times you’ve had in your career.
Q: What was your first job?
Going through college, I worked at the help desk in an engineering computer lab. I’m introverted, but that job taught me that I could work with anyone to help solve a problem. As boring as it sounds, a computer help desk was a fun and developmental role.
Q: Who's one of your role models—and why?
LeBron James. It’s not just the sustained level of excellence he’s displayed since he was a high school player; it’s the way he plays. He can see the game at a different level than almost anyone else who plays. And he enjoys giving an assist more than he does getting a basket. He wants to make his teammates better.
Q: What extracurricular activity do you enjoy that might surprise others to learn?
I’m a Kansas City Barbeque Society-certified judge: we go to barbeque competitions to judge all the wares. It’s not nearly as hard as you think.”
Ed draws on nearly 25 years of experience, including 21 years at DuPont, to lead Chemours’ Titanium Technologies & Chemical Solutions divisions, meet customer needs, and help grow Chemours. He’s held a variety of positions in engineering, operations, management, and R&D. Ed led Chemours North American business and then the Asia Pacific region for Titanium Technologies. As a strategy lead, Ed has worked across the breadth of the company, guiding investment and issue management decisions.
A graduate of Tennessee Technological University, in Cookeville, Tennessee, with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering, Ed earned a Six Sigma Black Belt in 2002 and became an APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional in 2011. He has served on the board of directors of the United Way of Southern Chester County and led fundraising campaigns for education and crisis intervention programs.
President, Titanium Technologies and Chemical Solutions
“Our customers depend on our products to help meet their needs and grow their enterprises in a way that’s unprecedented across three businesses: Titanium Technologies, Advanced Performance Materials, and Chemical Solutions. We help get them there by offering the best solution for our customers—providing them great value and the confidence to grow with us.