Special report: A culture for sustainability

06 June 2014 10:07 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

A company culture that embraces sustainability, the environment and a healthy workplace makes U.S. Chemicals stand out amongst its peers. Oh!, and the fact that it’s owned and managed by Carol Piccaro

U.S. Chemicals is expanding, notes president and CEO Carol Piccaro, who has run the family-owned chemical distributor since she took over from her father in 1995. She is adding new regional sales representatives and beefing up the customer service team, to give more coverage for customers and suppliers.

 Carol Piccaro (right) and Chuck Irwin - focused on sourcing from outside the US

Copyright: U.S. Chemicals

A new regional sales structure has created six regions across the US (see map), with customer deliveries served from a network of 13 warehouses located throughout the country.

As CEO, Piccaro has been directly involved in the recruitment and interviewing process. Reflecting her own personal approach to business, she has been finding people in a number of more unusual ways, beyond just employing the conventional recruitment agencies. Piccaro is a strong believer in the power of referrals and continues to ask contacts who they know or would recommend on the company’s mission to attract the best and the brightest.

One of the new hires, for instance, was her personal trainer – not a typical place to recruit but he is now covering sales for the Mid-Atlantic region. The fact that Piccaro has a personal trainer onboard at the company reflects her personal philosophy that the U.S. Chemicals workforce benefits from working in a healthy, positive environment.

She has a deep, personal commitment to creating a working environment that promotes wellness and is a safe, efficient and attractive place to work. It is no secret, she says, that happy and healthy employees make better business decisions and suffer less absenteeism, adding that U.S. Chemicals has a low rate of absenteeism due to illness. The company prefers to offer the benefit of personal days off as “wellness days” and reimburses all employees up to $400/year for wellness activities.

Piccaro is also keen to develop creative-think-ing skills among her staff. “I want U.S. Chemicals to be open to ideas from within and outside the industry as long as they are best practices and increase productivity and sustainability. Through this process we have built a stronger business while diversifying our customer base, supplier chain and industry contacts.”

Piccaro’s personal commitments also inform the business’s approach to sustainability and the environment. For several years now, U.S. Chemicals has been an active supporter of Trees For A Change, with a mission to provide thoughtful, meaningful gifts that live on to restore devastated forest land. In 2013, the company gifted and raised enough funds to plant out over 1,000 trees. “One of the best things you can do for the earth is plant a tree.”

This year Piccaro is embracing and investing in another environmental project, Charity: Water. Its mission is to bring clean and safe water to every person on the planet. The non-profit organisation drills wells and provides clean water in areas where access is poor. To date it has carried out nearly 12,000 projects in 20 countries, bringing water to over 4m people across Africa, India, Central America and around the globe.

The sponsorship dovetails neatly with U.S. Chemicals’ sustainability efforts in the chemicals sector. A recent study by the company shows that its stands in the upper ranks of chemical companies in terms of its sustainability practices and standards. When doing business with suppliers and customers, U.S. Chemicals vets each company to determine their sustainability credentials. “Interestingly, but not surprising, the companies that we choose not to do business with due to poor service or quality are the companies that do not have sustainability programmes in place,” says Piccaro.

To illustrate U.S. Chemicals’ commitment to sustainability and the environment, Piccaro says that in a recent meeting with a supplier that now produces a cleaner, safer and more environmentally beneficial version of a core product, she was intrigued why so few customers were aware of the new benefits. To help, U.S. Chemicals suggested several innovative marketing strategies, which, maintains Piccaro is good business – good for the distributor, good for the customer, and good for the planet.

Piccaro’s role at U.S. Chemicals is, however, changing. The recruitment of Irwin as COO brings new management and news skills to the team and, says Piccaro, “the start of a new era”.

She will have more time for the more strategic CEO duties, as she puts it. “I will be working in the business, going out and visiting companies and making long-term commitments. Looking out over the next 5 to 10 years – not just the next quarter. We want to expand without losing our individualised service.”

By John Baker