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Best Managed Companies Don’t Just Happen

Solenis has had a tumultuous but successful seven years, culminating in honors as a Best Managed Company. Excellence in four areas took the company from spinoff to special.

By: Philip M. Patterson Jr. | July 6, 2021 | Reading time: 7 minutes

Earlier this year, Solenis had the honor of being named one of the 2021 America’s Best Managed Companies. This was the culmination of a lot of hard work since our inception in 2014, and we are quite proud to be included.

This prestigious award is sponsored by Deloitte Private and the Wall Street Journal, with selections made by a third-party panel of judges. The purpose is to spotlight the impact private companies have in the U.S and the contributions they make to health of the economy, local communities and the lives of the individuals they employ. Companies such as Solenis are a significant part of driving growth and prosperity, but often go unrecognized because we are not publicly held.

It’s interesting that Solenis is only the second chemical company to be included. Our brand is less than 10 years old and, being a B-to-B company, may not be as recognized as some of the more consumer-facing honorees. But our history and our foundation are colorful and we have evolved to become a major player in the markets we serve.

In 2014, our company was spun off and acquired by funds owned by a private equity firm, thus establishing the Solenis brand. Change and change management have driven our organization through the initial transition service agreements and then forward as we built out our organizations and simply kept the business running.

Amid all of this, we acquired a dozen smaller chemical companies to fill out our product line and supply chain. Each acquisition built on the strengths of the last, completing our portfolio and further providing new solutions to support our customers. Then in 2019, we executed a transaction that nearly doubled our size. 

It was a tremendous amount of change — but very focused with a lean team that took on every new challenge with enthusiasm. Driving through this change we had to keep our eye on the ball: What was our strategy? How would we execute? Did the pieces fit with our culture? Would it help the bottom line?

It was a lot to keep up with. We kept our focus, but then like you, we experienced the impact on business and employees caused by the global pandemic, plus the political and social upheaval in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Thriving during the past seven years and earning Best Managed honors required excellence in our strategy, execution, culture and financial results. Let’s look at each of them:

Strategy

At Solenis, our mission is to strive to be each customer’s most trusted supplier by solving problems with the right people, the right experience and the right technology. Our vision is to enable our customers’ success through innovative process and water treatment solutions.

Sounds great, right? You probably say something similar. But what do you really do? No matter what else is going on, Solenis has an unwavering commitment to our customers. Our employees genuinely live the mission and vision, and that kind of execution is what makes the difference.

Here is just one example: Last year, during a pandemic lockdown, a major tissue producer was starting a new paper machine — a multi-billion-dollar investment that could not be delayed for financial and consumer-demand reasons. (Remember the toilet paper shortages?) Only one Solenis representative was allowed on-site at a time; normally we have as many as five during the complex startup process. Two employees took turns spending a week at a time doing the work of several people, providing technical support and consulting with our off-site teams. The result: a successful launch of this essential new asset and confirmation to the customer that we go beyond simply selling world-class products. The synergy of sales, service and commitment separates Solenis from our competition, with many of our sales personnel viewed as an extension of our customers’ own employees. We know that because the customers don’t hesitate to tell us — and depend on us.

Execution

After a few years of organic growth and acquisitions, the business was solid, but we believed we could do better, so we reorganized our sales, marketing and technology groups into two regions — the Americas and Eurasia. By aligning each region with its own R&D, marketing, applications, customer service and equipment teams, we gained agility, flexibility and a tighter focus. 

Our two regions collaborate and share best practices but also have the autonomy to manage their business resources, increasing flexibility to drive enhanced customer partnerships. This structure also fosters improved network decisions, cost-savings optimization and global process consistency.

We supported this by becoming a data-driven organization. We critically reviewed our billing and payment structures, as well as our cost structure, driving working capital efficiency and continuous improvement. In addition, we choose speed over methodology in every case to ensure we gain the benefits of a project as fast as possible. If you look closely at your processes and procedures, you most likely will find ways to do more with less, and do it faster, shrinking your cost footprint with little to no impact on full-time employees. (And that last part is important; remember, building and maintaining your culture is essential.)

Culture

Speaking of which, how’s yours? Are you getting the best people? Are you keeping them?

Solenis keeps a close watch on how people are feeling. Each year since 2014, we have done a worldwide, all-employee culture survey, never falling below 70 percent participation. Our scores have always been good, around 8 on a 10-point scale (safety is No. 1 at 9.4), but most important is that they continue to improve in all parts of the world. That is gratifying, but we don’t rest on these very good results. Every single people manager gets a personal action plan based on the latest survey, and it is built into their performance review.

Gabriele Bradley, member of the President’s Roundtable, our highest honor.

As noted, our safety score is No. 1  and safety is indeed deeply embedded in our culture. Our 10 Safety Expectations are kept visible to every employee and we execute them without exception. These expectations, which support our philosophy that all injuries are preventable, are incorporated into our everyday activities. We train and expect our team to “STOP. THINK. ACT.”, leveraging behavior-based risk assessment as key company conversation.

We reinforce our culture of excellence by frequently and visibly celebrating individual achievements. It ranges from something as simple as an individual’s photo for a service anniversary on our intranet home page to a $10,000 award for our top honor — selection to our President’s Roundtable for contributions to our customers, our company, our communities and our environment. Significantly, any employee can nominate anyone else for our honors, including the most prestigious ones.

And now, more than ever, we are fully committed to a safe, diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. You probably took some actions last year at the height of the discussions and news coverage following the murder of George Floyd. Is your company continuing to visibly work on this, or is it starting to fade away? It is imperative to your culture to stay active on this and other initiatives. It’s the right thing to do, too.

Financial performance

We excel and continuously improve through a series of best practices, including strong leadership throughout the organization, very clear delegations of authority and governance, regional organization as described earlier, and rigorous reviews and audits. One of the key areas of improvement was to embrace automation and digital workflows, enabling Solenis to close monthly results in three days and report company performance and forecasts within five days.

Concurrent with this was a new focus on corporate accounts — our most strategic customers. We organized our global resources to ensure we grew as we helped these customers grow. We also initiated a drive to increase our sales of products less than five years old, using innovation to raise new barriers to the competition while increasing our pricing leverage.

Our financial performance is a significant part of each employee’s personal and team objectives and their performance incentive plan. Each department and team know the role it plays in achieving our goals, and the company’s ongoing results are transparently reported, in detail, at quarterly all-employee meetings.

Are you up to the challenge?

Deloitte recently released a report noting that private companies accelerated their plans during the pandemic. They moved forward and moved faster, particularly in their digital transformation, rather than being conservative and waiting to see how it played out.

At Solenis, we have been on that path since 2014. It has helped us to rapidly grow, to handle the crises and competitive threats of today, and to be ready and resilient when the next ones come along. We’re on the right path; join us!

Philip M. Patterson Jr.

Philip M. Patterson Jr. is senior vice president and chief financial officer at Solenis. He was the steward of gaining recognition as a U.S. Best Managed Company.