Building a Growth Culture
Solenis is grounded in a strong heritage that includes Ashland Water Technologies, Betz Laboratories, Drew, Stockhausen and Hercules. According to Jeff Fulgham, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, “There was a lot of debate about the kind of company we should be, even the name we should use. Some people wanted to go back to Hercules, but we felt strongly that we needed a new name. It gave us a chance to start fresh.”
Beyond the name itself, starting fresh meant creating a single unified culture with common goals and values. Driven by Solenis President and Chief Executive Officer John Panichella’s vision of an organization commercially focused around customers, the company embarked on an intensive culture-building initiative built on 12 core beliefs organized around three priorities – People, Performance and Results.
The culture work began in September 2014 and by June 2015, the core beliefs were vetted and approved. A series of surveys have since measured the pulse of the Solenis employee population, and participation rates have been as high as 93 percent.
The ultimate goal, however, is not simple participation but acceptance and internalization. As Katy Abernathy, Director, Global Marketing and Business Communications, points out, “Safety is a metaphor we use all of the time. We are one of the safest organizations in our industry, thanks to a conscious and deliberate campaign we have executed over the years. Now, safety is part of the daily routine of our employees. That’s where we want to be with the Solenis corporate culture.”
Even though there is still work to do on the culture front, the progress has been impressive. In fact, speed and agility have been equally important watchwords. Consider that the new Solenis organization began with no HR department, no financial officer and no IT infrastructure.
According to Iris Melendez, Director of Global Talent Management, Solenis put some stopgap recruitment measures in place to keep the organization moving forward. “That got us from point A to point B,” Melendez notes. “Now we have a recruiting manager in place, and we’re somewhere between point B and point C – looking at recruitment with totally fresh eyes, figuring out how we want it to work in the new Solenis culture. Same thing with training: we stopped training in the transition from Ashland, but now we’ve launched an extensive global leadership curriculum, as well as a global sales curriculum, and we’re investing heavily in the professional development of all our employees.”
The focus on innovation is paying off
Creating an IT team from scratch required another herculean effort. The company’s approach, according to Solenis Chief Information Officer Charles Wallace, was to keep the IT function small. “We looked for high-energy people who could see through the confusion, visualize an end state and then fight their way to it,” he says. “We also decided that, while we wanted to own the IT strategies, we wanted to take advantage of managed services for key capabilities. This approach has enabled us to get a lot done – initiate the digitization of business processes, consolidate our enterprise resource planning platform to a single instance of SAP, assess and mitigate security threats – but has also enabled us to look toward the future so we can help the company grow.”