Interview with CEO Stefan Sommer, ASK Chemicals GmbH, Hilden
At the end of 2010, ASK Chemicals, the new global provider for the foundry industry, was created from a joint venture between the foundry divisions of Süd-Chemie AG and Ashland, Inc. ASK Chemicals GmbH, headquartered in Germany, is now represented in 24 countries – in the traditional markets of Europe and Eastern Europe, in the USA, and in the booming markets of Asia and South America. More than 1,800 people work at 29 locations. After one year of doing business on the market, CEO Stefan Sommer reflects on the company’s accomplishments to date and the coming challenges for the years ahead.
ASK Chemicals recently celebrated its first anniversary. How would you summarize 2011?
The merger of the foundry activities of Süd-Chemie AG and Ashland, Inc. has created one of the foremost and largest suppliers of consumables such as chemicals and materials to the foundry industry.
We have successfully positioned the new ASK Chemicals on the market. The ASK Chemicals Group increased its revenues by 18%, from around EUR 500 million in 2010 to nearly EUR 600 million in 2011. We owe this progress not only to the positive economic development in 2011 but also to our overall portfolio, which our customers value and which will continue to provide further growth potential in future. Also, the outstanding foundry expertise of our employees helps ensure that we can further reinforce our core competence around the globe: developing and implementing tailored solutions for our customers.
When creating a new company from a number of single companies, as in the case of ASK Chemicals, integrating these companies is a main priority. How would you assess the current status of this process?
Of course it’s always a challenge to integrate many small and heterogeneous companies into a larger, global one. This ranges from different systems and overlapping products and product names to different levels of corporate identity development. We are working tirelessly to integrate our electronic systems as well, though we are some way from completion. We have made more progress with our portfolios. Positioning the new ASK Chemicals corporate brand has certainly been a success and our customers approve! We put our slogan “We advance your casting” into practice. We are judged by this standard. Within the company, we have actively established our own ASK Chemicals culture — certainly assisted by the major GIFA trade show in 2011 — that is marked by pride in our performance and our past achievements. It’s all part of a greater whole with excellent prospects for the future.
Which countries and markets will you focus on in the next three years?
We are globally active, with 29 subsidiaries in 24 countries and 15 production sites. Thanks to this global presence, we can now offer tailored products and premium service in all key markets.
Europe, North America and Northeast Asia are the markets for developing pioneering technologies, and they will remain such for the time being. As an innovative company, of course we feel right at home in these technologically sophisticated markets.
Thanks to the global focus of ASK Chemicals and close cooperation among our ASK experts, we have created a solid foundation for know-how transfer. Such sophisticated developments from leading technology markets can be customized as needed to meet local requirements in the emerging markets for our customers in China, Brazil, India and Russia. Therefore, ASK customers around the globe benefit from our high quality standards worldwide. In the next three years we will reinforce our commitment especially to those markets, where we currently have less representation. Products to enhance the profitability and productivity of the foundries in these countries are more and more in demand. At the same time, we recognize the need to offer environmentally friendly solutions for foundries in especially also the emerging markets, in order to counteract the growing pollution caused by the rapid increase in industrialization.
ASK Chemicals has professed its commitment to the concept of sustainability. What is ASK doing to improve sustainability in foundries?
Sustainability is a holistic, three-pronged concept consisting of ecological, financial and social sustainability.
Our INOTEC inorganic binder system is known for its ability to nearly entirely eliminate combustion products during casting, for instance. So there are hardly any emissions that need to be suctioned out and burned. The absence of emissions benefits our customers’ employees in particular as the work environment in the foundry is much improved. We are working at full speed to develop additional systems for a broader application base.
However, our approach to develop sustainable products doesn’t end with inorganic binder systems. Our low-emissions cold box systems – the standard and backbone of series production in foundries – are being continually upgraded and improved. Additionally, our water-based coatings, release agents and inorganic feeder technologies make a key contribution to greater sustainability for the foundry industry.
We are very dedicated to the sustainable development of the foundry industry. This is why ASK Chemicals provides special resources in order to advance the development of sustainable solutions at its research centers.
What are your expectations for the years ahead?
We have plenty of topics for the future. Firstly, securing and expanding our good position in many European, American and northern Asian markets is a priority. We are driven greatly by the rising expectations of our customers for innovative and environmentally friendly products and solutions. In addition, the expansion of our market positions in the other Asian and eastern European regions will certainly be a focal point. Growth and technological developments in countries such as China, India and Russia will provide great potential for our products and services for many years to come.