Insights from industry

What Makes A Great Fine Chemical Custom Manufacturing Business?

In this interview, Jeff Black, President and Site Manager of Jayhawk Fine Chemicals Corporation talks to AZoM about their partnership with CABB and the company’s continued success.  

Jayhawk’s divestment from Evonik, new ownership under Permira, and strategic alliance with CABB have positioned it as a pure-play fine chemical custom manufacturing service provider as well as a supplier of catalog products. How do both sides of the business support each other? How do you balance them?

Jayhawk is one manufacturing facility. The site and everything in it, works as one.  That being said, the advantage of having catalog products in a custom manufacturing facility is that a baseload is established. Whether you're bringing projects in or phasing them out, the baseload mitigates risk and provides stability in the workforce.

Why do you think Jayhawk has had success in the catalog business? What is important to help ensure continued  success?   

The best thing about our catalog products is that they are custom, highly specialized, made-to-order.  In trying to keep prices in line with applications served, you have to work really hard on cost, on quality, and you have to be open-minded about the next opportunity. It’s important to drive forward, and say "Okay, what's next? Where are we going to go?" It comes down to flexibility, reliability, quality and cost. That's going to be true for everything we do.

What would you say is the difference between a good fine chemical custom manufacturer and a great one?

It's the relationship with the customer.  Every company has assets, but what differentiates a great service provider from somebody who's just out there doing business is the people. We have dedicated employees who connect with our customers at all levels and know how best to serve them.

I think the feature that separates us, is we keep attacking and refining processes until they’re not only stabilized, but we've achieved our goals from a cost and quality point of view.  Again, none of that is possible if you don't have people who can perform and bring all of this together.  We're on the customer’s team. We're an extension of their business through the project, so not only are we responsible as suppliers but any time we can help keep things organized and aligned, that's an obligation we are called to fulfill.

What is the most fun part of running a fine chemical custom manufacturing business? What is the most challenging part?

It is indeed dynamic, and it changes every day, and you're constantly learning, and you are  constantly growing with your customers. That's the fun part. It's new people, it’s new processes, it's new challenges.         

The biggest challenge is working with customers and saying, "Okay, well, this is your specification. Is everything here? What else is important to you?” This can be exaggerated when points of contacts change, which they tend to do. It’s our job to make sure that projects remains on track.

If someone came to you and said they wanted to make sure they had the best relationship possible with their service provider, what are the top 2 or 3 things they need to do?

First and foremost, customers should consider the level of complexity of a project, and the level of input needed from their service provider to make the project a success. A customer can have a great tech package, a great product, and a partner that they know can do the job, but there still could be needs above and beyond basic assets and means of production. That may be a wide variety of things such as analytical method development, special considerations for product packaging, or logistics excellence. Figuring these things out as much as possible upfront is the best way to make the project a success.

The second thing customers should consider upfront is their supply chain, and experience counts. It is easy to assume that suppliers are going to deliver, but things can quickly go wrong. People underestimate how important sourcing is because it’s easier to delegate that to the partner. They're not always thinking about the secure supply of key raw materials. Working with the service provider to ensure the supply chain is strong before the project is launched will save headaches for everyone involved.

Let’s talk about Jayhawk’s strategic partnership with CABB, a leading European manufacturer of chemical intermediates and finished products. How do you expect the relationship to help the Jayhawk business improve?

There are a number of complementary technologies between our site and between our personnel, and the immediate advantage is that we both have the same philosophy as custom manufacturers. Whether it's sales and marketing teams, technical teams, or the assets in Europe and the U.S., what’s most exciting is that we have a true custom manufacturing transatlantic partnership to serve a broader base of customers.

What insights have you gained from CABB that you are looking forward to implementing at Jayhawk?

We're already doing that, actually. We sent a team to the facilities in Europe and vice-versa. We're already sharing a lot, especially with project management. We're excited about some of what the European facilities can bring to us in terms of understanding the specific technology.

The advantage we have as a small to medium sized business is we tend to think about agility and speed and try to be pragmatic. So, coming from really large organizations, Jayhawk has some things that we can definitely share that are helpful in terms of best practices, and CABB has some things in terms of agility that they've been able to share with us.

What do you think Jayhawk does well that could be a model for CABB?

I don't know that it necessarily applies to just CABB, but it's the philosophy that we live in achieving success when handed a challenge. The most important aspect of our business is that people rise to the challenge and solve problems. Jayhawk is adept at recognizing challenges and getting through them as quickly as possible.

Ultimately,  it's about the culture we share. There are some things that we're going to be able to apply from the way each company operates that are going to be super helpful, and we're seeing it already.

How do you identify opportunities for growth? Are there any opportunities for Jayhawk you particularly excited about?

We have joint investments in our facilities, and I think a lot of our growth comes from developing that partnership and being the service provider of choice to the industries we serve.

What’s interesting about our industry right now are blue-chip players with R&D pipelines that are bursting at the seams.  For the first time in a long time, we have an opportunity to dive into these pipelines and provide robust and quick solutions to transition them from the pipeline to the marketplace.

We can be an excellent partner because a lot of these projects involve complex chemistries that wouldn't fit correctly at a toller, and for us, that's incredibly exciting.

At the end of 2019, what is the one thing you want to be able to look back and say about the year Jayhawk has had?

It's the same thing I say every year, and that is we were successful in demonstrating to our partners and customers that they selected the right partner. It's getting those products to them on time, at the best cost position, and that's the biggest challenge in custom manufacturing.

And what are the most important leadership skills to ensure that success?

They are not technical skills. You're managing people, so it's about getting them aligned by skills, abilities and interests. As leaders we have an obligation to shape young professionals and customize their experience to what we're trying to do with the business, which is serving and understanding customers' needs.

We also have to be able to read the customer, understand what they are looking for, and work with them on a daily basis, whether it's in the laboratory or in a meeting room. It comes down to organizational leadership. When looking for my replacement, I'm going to search for somebody who could take a chemist, an engineer, mechanical, electrical, chemical, whichever and match their skills and ability to the markets served.  Until that time, I’m privileged to guide Jayhawk to the next stage of our journey.

About Jeff Black

Jeff Black leads Jayhawk's fine chemical custom-manufacturing business for complex chemical intermediates and active ingredients.

Beginning as an analytical chemist in 1989, Jeff has worked through a number of assignments ranging from production to management, both at home and abroad.

He currently serves as President and Site Manager.

About CABB Group GmbH

CABB Group GmbH is a leading custom manufacturer of starting materials, active ingredients and advanced intermediates; a major producer of high-purity monochloroacetic acid; and a supplier of premium fine chemicals. We are small enough to focus on attentive customer partnerships, yet large enough to master complex chemical synthesis. Customers benefit from CABB’s manufacturing excellence, product quality, security of supply, and collaborative approach to sourcing solutions.  Custom manufacturing services are offered from three complementary multi-purpose production sites: Kokkola, Finland; Pratteln,Switzerland; and Galena, Kansas USA ("Jayhawk")."

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

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