Plan ahead to avoid the talent pinch in the chemical industry

Identifying and developing future leaders brings benefits to company performance
ICIS, ICIS Chemical Business, February 2016

Author: John Baker, London

The chemical industry continues to grapple with attracting and retaining appropriately talented and experienced people to ensure strong performance in the C-suite and board room. The sector has a well-recognised talent gap in middle management, as an ageing senior management cohort approaches retirement over the next five years.

The challenge is to avoid this pinch point by identifying and nurturing up-and-coming talented managers and to accelerate their rise to the top C-suite posts, whether they come from inside the company or are recruited externally in mid-career.

This talent gap is a global phenomenon, says Alex Martin, global sector leader chemicals & process manufacturing, at US-headquartered recruitment specialist Korn Ferry, but plays out differently across the globe according to the maturity of the industry in various regions.

“The situation is certainly more acute in Europe and the US, but not yet so pronounced in places like India and China.” Here, he notes, there are plenty of people mid-career and thus less of a gap. But it is only a matter of time before the issue begins to become more important. “The problem may well catch up with them in 20 years’ time,” he says.

The shortage of suitable candidates in midcareer – say in their 40s – who are ready to come through is not a short-term problem. “It’s likely to become a five-year issue for companies to put right,” says Martin. One result is that people are being promoted to the top more quickly than before.


A recent survey by Korn Ferry across the top 100 companies in the US, across all industry sectors, shows that executives are joining boards at younger ages. In 2014, it found 16% of new board directors were under 49 years of age. This compares with a figure of just 4% of directors under 49 for boards overall that year.

The encouraging news, says Martin, is that companies are beginning to think about and address several issues that have the potential to solve the talent gap indirectly, so to speak. One of these is diversity in the board room, and notably gender diversity; the other is specific programmes to identify rising stars and accelerate their development.

Positive actions in both these areas, he believes, will bring talent through more quickly and help retain the chosen high flyers, as they will choose to stay in the company to make their way to the top. Diversity is clearly in companies’ minds in the western hemisphere, right now, adds Martin, although Korn Ferry has yet to see as much concern in the Middle East and Japan and little if any in Asia as a whole, as their thinking lags in this respect. But, he adds, just like safety and environment matters, he expects the diversity agenda will spread to other areas as multinational companies espouse policies globally.