President, Chemical Solutions
From his days running operations to his more recent tenure leading sales, Edwin Sparks has worked to make teams better. Ed has taken that drive and channeled it into his role as president of Chemours Chemical Solutions division. Here, he’ll continue to solve customer problems, and in the process, help grow our company.
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 difficult 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 really was such an intriguing mix for me.
Also, 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 them 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. Short term, we’re starting to see market conditions that will give us the ability to extract higher value from our products than we have over the last few years.
The longer-term driver involves a couple of key capacity investments. We’re upgrading our plant in Belle, West Virginia, to make more glycolic acid, and we’re building a new plant in Mexico to produce solid sodium cyanide.
In terms of our corporate strategy, we’re thinking of Chemical Solutions as a technology incubator—a place where we can introduce many different, quality chemical businesses that would be new to the company. We're trying to develop a scalable operating model for Chemical Solutions that will help us build Chemours overall.
Q. How does Chemours Chemical Solutions business impact the world?
A. Let’s look at one product line, for example: 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 the product we provide, 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 get us fiscally healthy.
Now we're generating cash, which allows us to think about investing and reinvesting in these businesses in a way that, three 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 three businesses—Titanium Technologies, Fluoroproducts, 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. Being Customer Centered is a core Chemours value. How has that 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. I do that through deep understanding of their processes, their strategies, their drivers. You need to learn what drives their success and what makes them special, then look at how they deploy those things to grow business. From there, you figure out how to convert that into a business opportunity for you.
I remember when I first called on one client in particular. I wanted to be their best business consultant; I wanted to show them all the different strengths we have 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 have created a culture that allows 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 just be in the financial numbers. It's going to be in the capabilities of the Chemours team.
We value Collective Entrepreneurship, where our people think of this not as a $6 billion company, but as a small business they own. Many companies of our size are bureaucratic, 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, then you'll have that opportunity at Chemours. If you join us, you'll look back on this as one of the best times you've had in your career.
Going through college, I worked at the help desk in an engineering computer lab. I’m introverted, but that job helped me figure out that I could work with anybody to help solve a problem. As boring as it sounds, a computer help desk was a fun and developmental role.
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 does it. He can see the game at a different level than almost anybody else who plays. And he enjoys giving an assist more than he does getting a basket. He wants to make his teammates better.
Surprise Extracurricular Activity
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.
Drawing on close to a quarter century of experience at this company (21 of those years at DuPont), Ed leads Chemours Chemical Solutions division, meeting customer needs and helping grow Chemours.
Ed has held a variety of positions in a number of departments, starting as an engineer and then moving on to operations, management, and research and development. He eventually moved to sales, taking the lead for Chemours North American business and then the Asia Pacific region for Titanium Technologies. As Chemours strategy lead, Ed has worked across the breadth of Chemours, guiding decisions on both investments and issues management.
Over the course of his career, Ed earned the Six Sigma Black Belt in 2002, and then became an APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional in 2011.
A graduate of Tennessee Technological University with a BS in chemical engineering, Ed has served on the Board of Directors of the United Way of Southern Chester County, having led a fundraising campaign for programs ranging from education to crisis intervention.