Chris Siemer, President, Chemours Chemical Solutions.

President, Chemical Solutions

Chris Siemer

Transforming Chemours into a higher value chemistry company that can compete with anyone in the world—regardless of market conditions, financial headwinds, or the pace of change—is a big job. That's what Chris is working on, as the leader charged with making our five-point business transformation plan.

Q. What are some of your leadership principles?

A. I believe that leadership starts with personal integrity. A business leader is responsible to everyone who works in and depends on your area. This responsibility has to have a higher priority than your personal goals. This is what unshakable integrity means to me. 

I have also learned that you have to be yourself. We all have strengths, weaknesses, and the occasional idiosyncrasy that make up our personalities. Early in my career, I sought to emulate the personality or style of great leaders I met. I eventually learned that I could be myself while adding the skills that great leaders demonstrate. The best explanation and listing of these skills I've seen is in the leadership chapter of Jim Collins' book, Good to Great.

Q. Speaking of leadership, you were recently appointed to lead the Chemours business transformation team. How’s it going so far?

A. Well, we are trying to behave more like a startup, which means focusing on fewer things and executing faster.

Prior to the launch of Chemours as an independent public company, our businesses were relatively small parts of a large Fortune 500 company. Now we are transforming into a leaner, more focused, higher value chemistry company.

We've already seen behavior change. People are taking greater ownership and having an even stronger bias toward action. Now we need to change our formal structures to support and promote that approach across Chemours—and do it quickly and decisively.

Q. Chemours became its own company on July 1, 2015. What has changed since the separation from DuPont?

A. Quite a lot, but the biggest changes are still to come. We've created a five-point transformation plan that gives us a blueprint for building a higher value chemistry company.

First, we are planning to reduce structural costs by $350 million by the end of 2017. We will get there by simplifying policies, processes, and our organizational structure—and we are already well underway.

Second, we are going to grow our market positions. Our Opteon™ sustainable refrigerants are in millions of automobile air conditioning systems in Europe, with room to grow there and in the US and Asia. In the stationery refrigeration market, we're really just getting started. We have a Ti-Pure™ business that enjoys big cost, efficiency, and quality advantages, with the flexibility to scale up and down in concert with market cycles. We have a cyanides business for gold producers that is the leader in the Americas, working at full capacity and positioned for growth.

Third, and this is strongly related to growth, we need to refocus our investments to concentrate on the products, processes, and applications where we have the strongest advantages.

Fourth, we are going to optimize the portfolio. So Chemours will be built on fewer and higher-growth businesses going forward. We are in the process of selling non-core businesses.

Fifth, we are going to enhance our organization. We're building a culture based on less bureaucracy and more accountability. The first priority for everyone is to focus on activities that add value for customers. I think that will make Chemours a place where the very talented people we have are able to make a bigger difference.

Q. How is the Chemical Solutions business, which you lead, transforming?

A. Chemical Solutions has been a portfolio of businesses waiting for a strategy. That’s why we initiated a strategic review of the Chemical Solutions portfolio as a part of our five-point transformation plan.

We have made great progress: In the third quarter of 2016, we completed the sales of Sulfur Products and the Clean and Disinfect business to Veolia and LANXESS, respectively. Also, with our plan to streamline our business portfolio and deliver cost savings in 2017, we ceased production at the Niagara Reactive Metals facility at the end of September.

Q. How has your background prepared you for this transformation?

A. I've led, or been part of leading, transformation teams several times in my career. I started with Stauffer Chemicals, which was acquired three times before being split up and sold. As a result of that process, I wound up at ICI, which successfully spun off Zeneca and then went through a huge amount of change that resulted in significant value generation. I’ve learned that change is difficult, and can be painful. But it's also essential for survival and success. That's very much the perspective I bring to work at Chemours every day.

When I'm Not Working

"I try to play guitar daily to exercise my brain and manage stress. I also love to cook, and have been fortunate to pick up a lot of culinary technology from the various places where I've been able to live and work. I have found that being interested in food and cooking is a great way to bridge cultures and build relationships."

Best Career Advice

I had a boss early in my career who told me, "Don't be afraid of making mistakes, just don't make the same one twice," which was really supportive and gave me the confidence to drive change early in my career. Then, a bit later, when I was a typical ambitious American working in Europe, I had a French boss who told me, "Life comes first, then work, and if you don't get that right, you'll never be a great leader." That made me think about leadership in a different and deeper way. I saw that it was possible to be absolutely tenacious with regard to achieving business goals, while keeping your fundamental priorities in place.

Biography

Chris joined DuPont in 2010 as managing director, Clean Technologies, and immediately led the successful acquisition of MECS, the global leader in technology for the production of sulfuric acid, the world's most widely utilized chemical commodity. He was named president of the Chemours Chemical Solutions business in July 2014, and he assumed leadership of the transformation team in September 2015.

Chris started his career at Stauffer Chemical in production engineering roles, and in 1982, he moved into the technology-licensing group based in Dobbs Ferry, New York. He worked as a design and commissioning engineer on projects in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and later assumed responsibility for technology sales. Stauffer was acquired by ICI in 1987, and Chris focused on the licensing of technology for the manufacture of vinyl chloride and PVC.

In 1990, he joined ICI Specialties as the production superintendent at the Atlas Point facility in New Castle, Delaware, and then moved up through regional marketing and business management roles. In 1998, he transferred to Everberg, Belgium, to become the European Industrials business and IT manager, leading a range of regional business units. In 1999, following ICI's formation of Uniqema, he was appointed to the position of global vice president, Enterprise Businesses, with responsibility for the Crop Protection, Oilfield, Polymer Additives, Specialty Cleaning, Spin Finish, and Textile Auxiliaries SBUs.

In early 2001, Chris was appointed global vice president, Lubricants, and in 2004 he joined the Uniqema Board and was appointed regional director for the Asia Pacific region, moving with his family to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2007, following the sale of Uniqema, Chris returned to the US and started a consulting company, which provided M&A management services to a range of multinational clients.

Chris holds a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Connecticut.