From helping farmers to increase their crop productivity to keeping hospitals and schools free from bacteria, the Dow Chemical Company is doing what it can to improve the lives of people all over the world. Its leading innovations are varied and tackle problems across a broad range of industries; targeting some of the big issues of today such as energy efficiency, connectivity, safety in construction, and the preservation of vital resources.
Tony Frencham became the Managing Director and Regional President for Dow’s Australian and New Zealand operations in 2014. This was after more than two decades with the company in different sales, marketing, commercial, and management positions. During this time he did several stints offshore — two in Asia, one in Europe, two in North America, and one in the Middle East — where he learned to work with a diverse range of people and develop his personal leadership style. Coming into his current role, he says his first priority was to enhance and strengthen employee engagement.
“All companies go through ups and downs when it comes to culture and I thought it was time for some cultural renewal at Dow. When I initially joined the company back in 1989 we were a much bigger entity than we are today, and we used to do a lot more manufacturing here in Australia. The focus for growth now is in Asia and because of this I found people were feeling a bit displaced. The bottom line is that everybody should get to play a meaningful part in the big picture of where Dow is heading. I wanted to help the whole team understand what their individual roles were and to look for pockets where people might not be performing as well as they could be.
“It might sound like a cliché, but I think our people and the way our people look after each other is what sets us apart from our competitors. There are a lot of people like myself who have worked with Dow for a long time because, as the old tagline goes, ‘Dow lets you do great things’. You get a lot of freedom to act and you deal with many people across the globe, not just in your specific location. People are always lending a hand to help you out. They cut into their busy day to make you more successful. I don’t know if that’s different to all of our competitors, but I know that works with Dow. If we can all help each other to then help our customers become more successful, then we’re doing a pretty good job each day.”
Listening to staff to identify genuine workplace culture
After listening to and learning from his staff, Tony identified which areas needed to be honed in on to improve the culture of the workplace. He found employees cared about topics such as having high-performing leaders, gender equality, and workplace flexibility. There were also issues present outside of the business, which Tony says Dow was happy to support on behalf of its staff.
“As you move into supporting your employees to be the best they can be, you get drawn into some major social events that are beyond the company,” Tony shares. “We should, as corporate leaders, stand up and be heard. Dow was proud to be an early corporate supporter of marriageequality.org. We stand proudly by our employees’ rights to be happy in their lives and to share that with whoever they want to.
“We’ve been a very big supporter of White Ribbon and the push to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence. We’ve rolled out a very strong policy for our employees around that issue and we stand strongly with the governments as they work on that. Furthermore, I’m very proud that I’ve been able to be part of the Victorian Male Champions for Change and I am working with my CEO colleagues in that group to continue to move the needle on gender equality in organisations across Victoria.”
Serious about safety at work
The workplace culture at Dow is based on several core values that are instilled in staff as soon as they are onboarded. Safety is the biggest one and something Tony says has evolved over the years to not only include employee care, but also the company’s impact on the environment, and its actions regarding ethics, respect, and responsibility. “The businesses I see out there that have problems around diversity, inclusion, and ethics don’t have the sort of foundational safety, health, and environmental standards we have in place. We’ve had a no compromise, no excuses, stand on safety all the way along and ethics, respect, and responsibility form the bedrock of the company. Everyone knows this; all of our employees know it and our customers know it too.”
According to Tony, this strong focus on people and culture won’t be pushed aside any time soon. “Although it’s perhaps no longer a primary focus, we need to constantly be on message and seen to be doing the right thing,” he notes. “Otherwise we will start to go into cultural decline again.” This mindset also extends to the people working with Dow as suppliers and partners. As business becomes more specialised and demanding, it becomes all the more critical to bring in expertise from the outside.
“As the carbon partner we help the host cities to lower, or fully mitigate, their carbon footprint while they are conducting the Olympics.”
“Our partners are able to bring their best-in-class expertise and that makes us better at delivering to our customers,” Tony says. “It becomes a shared commitment and I love that. I’m old enough now to recall the old days when most companies did their own thing. We were our own warehousing company, our own tracking company, and we did most of the back office services ourselves. We were just ok at doing all of this. Now we have the privilege of working with world-class suppliers and we can all do our respective roles really well. We can get out there and compete with the best in the world which is great. I find it really exciting. It’s about specialising in what you do best and having expert partners by your side.
“We’ve had a very long and successful relationship with FBT. They really are, in my experience, a world-class logistics partner for us. They’re constantly bringing us new ways of doing things better. We entrust them with moving our raw materials and products around, some of which are dangerous goods, and so they really are an extension of the reputation of our company. They do a tremendous job of living up to our standards in safety and reliability.
It has been a real privilege working with them.
“Connell Brothers is another company we partner with. I had the global president in my office just this morning and she was sharing with us the way they are growing with us, particularly in the Asia–Pacific region. It’s again a privilege to be working with them and having them represent our products as a premier sales channel partner. We’re greatly enjoying that relationship and looking at ways that we can grow it.
“Finally, with IMCD we have a tremendous relationship and it’s one built on mutual success. They are a professional organisation that do a great job as a sales channel partner
for us in specific markets and we are looking forward to growing with them and further building up the strong relationship we have.”
Another longstanding partnership is with the Olympic Games. Dow has been a technology partner to the host cities since the event was held in America’s Lake Placid in the winter of 1980. It has been an official chemistry partner since the 2012 games in London, UK. Furthermore, it has been an official carbon partner since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“This partnership enables us to bring our science and technology to the host cities to help them when constructing their facilities,” Tony says. “An example was the hockey field at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The artificial turf was made from our polyethylene and other products, and that was put together by one of our customers — one of our Australian customers, but it came out of their sister plant in Germany. We also worked on other sports surfaces and facilities, applying our building and construction solutions. That’s been a really exciting partnership. As the carbon partner we help the host cities to lower, or fully mitigate, their carbon footprint while they are conducting the Olympics. We did that first in Sochi and we did it again this year in Rio. Ultimately, we are bringing science and technology to solve human needs which is very exciting for us and something we are extremely proud to be involved in.”
Kicking sustainability goals
Looking to the future, Tony says he will be focusing on both the short and long term to ensure Dow continues to grow and prosper in the Australian and New Zealand markets. Firstly, he is confident the economy will continue to grow, despite being post-mining boom, and this will help Dow to achieve a steady trajectory in the short term. “The glass is still half full,” he says. “Australia is growing at 3 per cent and New Zealand is also growing well. There’s still a lot of construction going on. There are 200 cranes in the air in Melbourne at the moment and roughly the same number in Sydney. There is plenty of building going on. Food and nutrition is still a big growth market and an area where Australia and New Zealand excel with their clean and green standard. Exports to Asia are also on the rise.”