An elegant hotel in a picturesque seaside setting in Helsinki, Finland, was the venue for the annual FECC Congress last month.
Delegates soaked up the sun's rays in the gardens among the ducks and geese while discussing the main themes, namely the current business environment, implementing Reach, and the challenges and issues facing distributors.
Inside, away from the peace and calm outdoors, executives from chemical distributors and their suppliers, were grabbing cups of coffee as they made the most of the networking opportunities.
Despite the downturn and corresponding corporate cuts in travel budgets, nearly 200 delegates managed to attend the two-day event.
If there were two key words to take away from the meeting, then it would be differentiation and focus, or perhaps that should be refocus.
And, yes, although there is plenty for distribution companies to be negative about as their earnings decrease, albeit not as dramatic as their suppliers who are "going through hell at the moment", there were also positive notes.
One CEO emphasized the resilience of the chemical distributor as a business model with high diversification, flexibility and high barriers to entry.
CEOs of private equity-owned firms also spoke out in favor of their backers, trying to rebut the negative image portrayed during the crisis. Whether people were convinced about the advantages of private ownership was open to debate and not helped by the view of one speaker who said that private equity firms are destroying value and exit routes were closing.
Companies spoke too of the need to differentiate themselves, to refocus on their business model and plan for the long term, to get closer to customers, and to act in a sustainable and responsible manner.
As if the worst economic crisis in decades was not enough to cope with, distributors are having also to grapple with Reach (as is everybody at the moment) and forming substance information exchange forums (SIEFs) while time marches on inexorably towards the 2010 deadline. Add to this industry consolidation and migration, transport issues, drastic cuts in credit insurance cover and tightening credit lines, to name but a few.
And in the background is an ongoing antitrust investigation which kicked off in France and Germany in April, 2007, and which still lingers like a bad smell.
So, here's to next year's event in Barcelona, Spain, where hopefully the sun will shine again and the financial crisis, and perhaps the investigation, will be just another piece of corporate history. Just make sure your company survives until then.