INSIGHT: Industry still more confident of better times

28 February 2011 17:42  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--It is good to hear that chemicals CEOs are more optimistic than their counterparts in other industries. They look to growth  in emerging markets, not in the developed economies. They are focused on efficiencies and innovations. But they fret about how to get and keep talent, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The world has changed. But surprisingly, one of the hardest hit industrial sectors has emerged from the financial turmoil and the economic slump perhaps not firing on all cylinders but accelerating nevertheless. Companies clearly are making more money, if not yet more chemicals, than before the downturn. They are doing more with less.

Oh, that this can continue. Yet with the help of emerging-market growth, it just might.

“[Chemicals] chief executives are nearly as confident of growth this year as they were in the boom years before the crisis,” PricewaterhouseCoopers says. “CEO confidence is being driven by targeted investments, in particular emerging markets  often far from home.”

Companies have changed tack through the downturn, the latest PwC survey of the attitudes of 59 leading executives in 27 countries shows.

Sometimes change has been fundamental, but overall a widespread efficiency drive has helped lift corporate spirits, and 66% of those surveyed are very confident of revenue growth over the next three years.

Executives are worried about economic uncertainty but are looking to emerging-market growth. “Forty nine percent of chemicals CEOs see China as one of the most important countries for their future sourcing needs,” PwC says, compared with 37% of the total industry sample. And 58% rank it among their top three countries for growth.

CEOs are worried that the scarcity of natural resources in the country could put the brakes on growth – and they worry about energy costs. But they look to innovations and to having the right people in the right place to help lift them further out of the mire.

Working with partners in the supply chain to help drive all sorts of innovation appears to be a feature of this year’s CEO survey, the 14th taken across the sector. And this fact alone underscores the sea change in thinking that the downturn has engendered.

But some things never change. Chemical players continue to find it difficult to secure the right people for the job. Skills are lost as employees retire and new hires have a different attitude to work, prompting some companies to consider different forms of remuneration.

“Three-fifths of [chemicals] CEOs say there is a limited supply of skilled talent,” PwC says, but the business consultancy adds that “necessity is the mother of retention”.

Many firms tried to hang on to as many qualified people as possible through the recession, PwC says. But while voluntary job turnover rates fell, history suggests that they will rise with better times, at least in some parts of the world.

The turnover in “hot” talent markets such as China is high, and many CEOs are changing their people strategies to improve engagement and retention.

Chemical companies aren’t quite up to speed with some of the newer thinking on how to keep the best talent. But it looks as though they will have to start focusing more closely again on employees' career paths and on instilling a greater sense of ownership across their businesses.

See Paul Hodges' Chemicals and the Economy blog
Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s
Asian Chemical Connections blog
Check out the ICIS Chemicals and Innovation blog

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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