Fecc Director General Uta Jensen-Korte on Promoting Chemical Distribution in Europe

30.05.2011 -

The Right Mix - When Uta Jensen-Korte took over as director general of The European Association of Chemical Distributors (Fecc) in November, she may have been new to the job, but definitely not new to the industry. She began her career at Bayer, later moving on to Cefic, and afterwards as a temporary agent with the European Commission. It's the mix of experience with both the public and private sector that Jensen-Korte brings to the table in her new role. Brandi Schuster caught up with her to discuss the current challenges facing the Fecc and her views on the role of women in the chemical industry.

CHEManager Europe: Ms. Jensen-­Korte, what do you consider to be the main objectives of the Fecc?

Uta Jensen-Korte: A key objective is the achievement of unity within our membership, as this is a precondition for the stakeholders to take our position into account. It's important for us to monitor legislative developments and to make sure the interests of the European chemical distribution industry are heard in Brussels. Representing the distribution industry is very important, and it is our job to make the institutions aware of the specifics in our sector. To achieve this, it is crucial that we become the opinion maker and the natural partner within our industry.

Is there a challenge in Brussels to make the EU legislators aware of the specific issues related to chemical distribution?

Uta Jensen-Korte: In any case, it is definitely useful to have a viable network. During my time in Brussels, I have been able to build relationships with industry, regulators and other stakeholders, which is now a tremendous advantage for my work within the Fecc. In Brussels, everyone knows each other - it's a close network - and this makes it easier to exchange ideas and cooperate together on projects.

What are some of the challenges facing the Fecc right now?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  One of our main priorities is to continue to find practical workable solutions for the next implementation phase of Reach, as well as to learn from the lessons of the first registration. I expect the next registration deadlines in 2013 and 2018 to involve more distributors in their roles as importers, of which an increase number will be small and mid-sized enterprises. These companies are sometimes more difficult to reach. Also, these deadlines apply to substances manufactured or imported in lower volumes, which means that data generation and data access costs will become a much larger issue than it was in 2010.
Another issue is the development in the co-decision for the Seveso Directive, which is aimed at improving the safety of sites containing large quantities of dangerous substances. The EU Commission set out to amend this 1996 Directive in 2010 with the objective of aligning it with the new classification, labeling and packaging Regulation, also known as CLP. The initial Commission goal was to keep the scope as close as possible to the 1996 Directive to avoid unnecessarily widening or lowering the current safety levels. However, the current draft does not correspond to that intention. While the Fecc welcomes the effort to introduce corrective mechanisms to improve the flexibility by allowing for the exclusion of certain substances from the scope of the Directive if they do not present a major accident hazard, there are other provisions that are cause for concern, such as the extension of the rules for inspections and for information to the public.

What are you working on in terms of sustainability?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  We are very active in promoting Responsible Care, or RC; improving health, safety and environmental standards within our member companies is one of our top priorities. In fact, the Fecc has developed its own European Responsible Care program to accelerate the progress of Responsible Care at a European level. The program has been specifically designed for companies operating in European countries where no national association exists; for national associations that wish support with the implementation of RC in their country or are currently applying only the manufacturers' RC program; and for pan-European companies operating in more than one country that are authorized by the respective national associations to apply the program. Also, the European Responsible Care program includes mandatory third-party audits.

Is there a push within the Fecc to get more members from Eastern Europe?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  We are currently analyzing the market there, particularly regarding the situation with regard to distributors and the distribution sector. While we have just started this analysis, our preliminary findings are that the situation differs from country to country. For example, many Western European Fecc members have set up subsidiaries in Eastern Europe, meaning that the local distributors are most likely very small or mid-sized companies, with a main focus on the local market.

Would those small companies be candidates for membership?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  Certainly; this is also a possibility we are currently exploring. In countries without any national distribution associations, Fecc membership could be attractive particularly for mid-sized companies. For the very small companies, however, language tends to be a major barrier. Also, we presume that these small companies that are active on the local market - and perhaps only in a specific area of the country - are more wrapped up in their national legislation rather than legislation on an EU-wide scale.

Do you see a lot of consolidation going on in the market, particularly in these small markets in Eastern Europe?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  Industry consolidation is continuing all over, especially now that the market is recovering. And manufacturers are also looking for distributors who can provide access to a broader market - not just pan-European, but global. Nevertheless, I presume there will be still the possibility for smaller distributors to consolidate and supply in specific regional areas and be specialized in niche applications.

As a woman at the head of a chemical distribution association, what is your take on the role gender plays in what is traditionally seen as a male-dominated industry?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  In principle, the entire discussion is old. This was already a hot topic at the beginning of my career, and when I started at Bayer, they already had programs in place to promote women. In fact, I was one of the first female plant managers at Bayer. But back then, I was usually the only woman. Later, when I came to Brussels, the dynamics had completely changed, and there were just as many women as men. Now when I look around at meetings, I sometimes get the impression that there are more women than men. And in our Fecc office, we only have women - gender discrimination in the opposite direction, I suppose.

In your home country Germany, there is currently a debate going about whether or not the government should mandate quotas that would require companies to place women in management positions

Uta Jensen-Korte:  I think it is important that women are given the chance to be in management positions. But while I'm a strong believer in this, I don't think a quota is needed. Personally, I never wanted to be the token woman. What's more important is that society does its part to promote opportunities for working mothers; it's not just about companies coming up with internal plans on how to get more women into management positions. It's about providing adequate child care, adequate school systems that ensure that children are being taken care of. Furthermore, in some countries, being a working mother comes with the stigma of being an uncaring parent. This is also where society needs to change its views if more women are to join the ranks of management in companies.

What role does gender play in the management of the FECC member companies?

Uta Jensen-Korte:  Take Fecc President Edgar Nordmann's company, Nordmann Rassmann, for example: Their managing director is a woman, Gabriele Henke. Some of the members have told me that they already have some units where there are more women than men. And that is the natural basis needed in order to move women up into management positions. My impression from our member companies is that they are all in favor of promoting women. But in the end, they want to choose the best candidate for the job, regardless of gender.

See also our interviews with the leaders of several Fecc member companies.



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