Chemistry & Life Sciences

'Always Solving' - Ashland Launches New Brand

CEO Bill Wulfsohn and Chemicals President Luis Fernandez-Moreno about Ashland's New Strategy, R&D, and Key Markets

19.11.2016 -

Ashland is a specialty chemicals company serving customers in a wide range of consumer and industrial markets, including adhesives, architectural coatings, automotive, construction, energy, food and beverage, personal care and pharmaceutical. The Covington, Kentucky-based company reported sales of about $2.3 billion in 2015. Ashland recently has taken important steps in its plan for the future, furthering its competitive strategy following its eventual separation from Valvoline, revealing its new "Always Solving" corporate identity and unveiling the organizational culture that will continue to differentiate the company as it continues its mission to become the premier specialty chemical company in the world. CHEManager asked Bill Wulfsohn, Ashland Chairman and CEO, about his strategy, and Luis Fernandez-Moreno, Vice President, Ashland and President of the Chemicals Group, about key markets and R&D.

CHEManager: You have separated Valvoline and Ashland into two standalone companies. What is the strategy behind this move?

Bill Wulfsohn: Over the past decade, we’ve worked to evolve Ashland from a diversified oil and chemicals company into a global specialty chemicals company. Our journey has been marked by significant milestones; the acquisitions of influential companies and chemistries; the creation of a cohesive management team; the recent IPO of Valvoline; and now, Ashland’s re-launch as a unified specialty chemicals company. It’s time to open a new chapter in how we think about ourselves and how we define, present, and manage the Ashland brand.

What are your plans and what is your vision for the new independent Ashland?

At Ashland’s Investor Day in New York City we shared our definition of a specialty chemical company. As we explained to investors, our innovative products are a very small part of the cost of the final product of our customers, but they deliver a significant proportion of the value of that product. Our ingredients enable our customers to support their label claims and to provide what consumers want. Our products are highly differentiated, and they are sold on performance rather than on specification. But it doesn’t end there. We back that up with the best global talent. We’re a company of passionate, tenacious solvers, supported by world-class operations. That’s what makes us a true “specialty” chemical company.

Our new brand positioning and identity, based on qualitative and quantitative market research, is designed to differentiate Ashland from competitors in a way that drives customer choice and ultimately, market share. It will also enable us to attract and retain superior talent and increase our enterprise value. We are driven by a vision to make a better world by providing creative solutions through the application of specialty ingredients and materials.

Where do you see Ashland’s core competences in regards to chemical expertise, customer markets and market regions?

Bill Wulfsohn: New Ashland has a unique combination of technologies that no other competitor has – cellulosics, vinyl pyrrolidones, acrylates, polyurethanes and bio-functionals. This set of competencies allows us to provide unique solutions to key markets around the globe in personal care, pharmaceuticals, coatings and adhesives, automotive and construction materials, as well as nutrition, food and beverage, and composites.

What are Ashland’s differentiation factors, which features distinguish the company from competitors in the marketplace?

Bill Wulfsohn: As mentioned, our unique combination of technologies and the passion and tenacity that’s inherent in every employee around the globe. As we go to market around the world, we are essentially making a promise about what it will be like to work with us and what we can accomplish: We thrive on developing practical, innovative and elegant solutions to complex problems in applied chemistry, always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and advancing the competitiveness of our customers across diverse industries.

In addition, as part of our brand definition work, we developed a proprietary framework to capture how we solve. This framework is designed to organize the diverse dimensions of value we add to customer products into simple but powerful categories—we call them The 5 Ashland Effects™:

Our people— are distinguished by their ability to create and apply specialized chemistry in ways that enable customers to amplify the efficacy, refine the usability, add to the allure, ensure the integrity, and improve the profitability of their products and applications.

What does the new corporate identity reflect and stand for?

Bill Wulfsohn: The new Ashland brand and identity reflects who we are and what we do. It embodies and proclaims our passion for solving the most important and complex problems in applied chemistry. It positions us as the place where you will find passionate and tenacious people who are always solving.

Ashland’s brand promise, new signature and positioning, emerged from qualitative and quantitative market research that highlighted a need to signal a clear change after all the acquisitions and divestitures we have had through the years. We have forged a global company with the people, expertise, and technologies needed to solve the most complex problems in applied chemistry. We have fostered a culture that thrives on pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. And, we have focused on advancing the competitiveness of customers across diverse industries.

“We are driven by a vision to make a better world.”

In which markets and regions do you see above-average growth opportunities for Ashland?

Luis Fernandez-Moreno: Ashland’s core technologies and global footprint enable us to participate in high growth markets. As an example, the pharmaceutical excipients business is growing as we continue to evolve human capability to extend life and more people can afford medical care as the emerging world grows. Similarly, in personal care we see a population focused on not only feeling good but looking good longer, as people can afford better products we see our ingredients growing.

We see similar trends in the use of house paints, adhesives and composites where our products also help to improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of products we use daily, ranging from flexible packaging to automobiles. So our solutions are aligned with global megatrends of sustainability, a growing middle class and an aging population.

How do you want to outgrow the market, what is your R&D strategy and budget?

Luis Fernandez-Moreno: The best way to grow above market is to be very close to our customers and to deeply understand their needs and those of their consumers, and then use Ashland’s superb technical team to always solve their most complex problems in applied chemistry. We currently spend about a $100 MM in technology ranging from breakthrough research in hybrid polymers and natural products to unique adaptations of our technologies to solve specific customer needs in a specific country or region.

Our passionate, tenacious technology teams are strategically located across the globe and we continue to expand our footprint. In the last 24 months we have opened new centers of excellence for Pharma in Hyderabad, India, Wilmington, Delaware and just this month in Shanghai, China. We also expanded our Coatings labs in Wilmington and Mumbai, India where we also expanded our personal care center.  By constantly bringing new solutions in close collaboration with our customers we expect to grow faster than the markets we serve.

And where do you see the main drivers of growth in the specialty chemicals market?

Luis Fernandez-Moreno: There are many areas of growth in specialty chemicals. Those who are in tune with their customer needs and can bring new solutions will grow faster. At Ashland, we bring our passionate people, technical capabilities and global footprint together to add benefits to everyday products. We are always solving to improve the allure, efficiency, usability, integrity and profitability of our customer’s products, participating in high growth end markets throughout the world. We see this as the right formula for growth.

"There are many areas of growth in specialty chemicals."