Executive Seminar with John Lemmex of Covestro

John Lemmex began his career at Bayer in 1987 as a process chemist after completing his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. In 1991, he transitioned to the business side, rising the ranks to become Chief Financial Officer of the US segment.

In October, Bayer spun off its MaterialsScience plastics unit as a new company named Covestro, in which it continues to hold a 69% stake. Covestro’s mission is “to make the world a brighter place,” a mission that Mr. Lemmex stresses as central to its functioning. Its products cover a wide range of polymer plastics, and its materials are present in thousands of products, ranging from CDs, cars, the lens of the iPhone camera, to the roof of the Olympic Stadium in China. It is one of the largest polymer manufacturers in the world.

One of the biggest emphases of his talk was Covestro’s sustainability contributions. Lighter materials mean less fuel consumed by cars, so Covestro encourages auto manufacturers to replace steel with lighter plastics. Buildings are responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions; Covestro’s materials help provide better insulation. It also works towards sustainability in its materials through innovation; it recently found a new method of producing one of its oil-based plastics using CO2, making it far more environmentally friendly. Mr. Lemmex stresses that sustainability and cost-effectiveness go hand in hand; it is not one or the other, but both.

Mr. Lemmex highlighted some important aspects of a robust business. Innovation is central; “without innovation, a company can’t grow.” This innovation is incomplete without the ability to push through bold new ideas. Covestro’s motto is: “we are curious, we are courageous, we are colorful:” curiosity leading to innovation, and courage to push through these new ideas.

The ‘colorful’ part encapsulates Covestro’s commitment to conduct business in a sustainable, inclusive way, integrating with communities, such as through support of local charities. Employees are given 16 hours a year of paid volunteer work. Mr. Lemmex offered a humorous anecdote of a color run, in which he ended up covered in paint.

Safety, too, is crucial: Covestro has an accident rate of just 0.31 per 1000 employees a year, and it assumes responsibility for safety throughout the lifecycle of a product, all the way up to its disposal.

The insightful questions asked by the seminar participants elucidated more details into the structure of Covestro. Since the products it offers are similar, Covestro differentiates itself by providing superior logistics, service, and customer support, delivering products on time and handling things electronically, for example. Its production is centralized, because its production units require large support structures, and so concentrating units reduces costs. Covestro’s clients are generally big, stable customers.

Most of his day to day functions cover financials. Some topics that he covers include volume, managing working capital, and, what he spends 30% of his time on, taxes. He spends a lot of time on people, too; hiring, developing existing staff, and providing opportunities to employees.

Mr. Lemmex also had valuable personal insights. When asked how often he travels, Mr. Lemmex remarked that the glamor of travelling often wears off quickly, particularly given that most travels are contained to conference rooms and hotels, without much exposure to the location itself.

He did end on an uplifting note. The conversation moved into discussing his background in chemistry, which Mr. Lemmex found easy; he simply had to look at chemistry and he would understand it. Everyone has a gift, he said; for him it was chemistry, but for others it may be music, or accounting. He encouraged the seminar participants to pursue their passions and find what they have a gift for and follow it.

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