Crew Babylon went early and often to their throws on St. Charles Avenue last night. Beads, caps, and cups rained down on enthusiastic Mardi Gras revelers, many with Informex name tags on strings of green, gold, or purple beads (courtesy of Chemical & Engineering News).
Informex still seems at home in New Orleans, the city that hosted the event every year in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The exhibition was lively, even if the aisles seemed a bit lightly traveled this year. Discussions centered on reorganization and consolidation—and the need for more of both.
There have been several changes of the guard following the surprise announcement last month of the departure of Stefan Borgas, Lonza’s CEO. Laura Coppi has been appointed general manager of Fabbrica Italiana Sintetici (FIS), taking the place of Roger LaForce, who surprised everyone in December with his decision to leave the company. A synthetic organic chemist, Coppi comes to FIS having held various R&D management positions at Zambon (parent company of drug actives maker ZaCh System), Davos Pharma, Wyeth, and Archimica. The last two positions ended rather abruptly when those companies were acquired. Coppi told me at Informex that she decided to enjoy the nice spring weather last year after the Italian firm Euticals acquired Archimica. Her sabbatical ended with the call from FIS.
LaForce, making the rounds at Informex, said he will take the position of managing director at his successor’s old employer, ZaCh System, later this. This will be LaForce’s third run in a row managing an Italian or Swiss-Italian family business. He left Helsinn in Biasca, Switzerland, before taking the job at FIS, where he is credited with strengthening the firm’s global marketing and establishing a sales arm in China. He also did the groundwork for the acquisition of Delmar Chemicals, a privately-owned company in Montreal that specializes in process optimization, scale-up, and small-scale cGMP synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
Why LaForce left FIS is the subject of some speculation. Much goes on behind closed doors at family-owned companies. But Informex attendees were more wrapped up in pondering the question of what happened to Borgas, given that Lonza did not have the kind of catastrophic earnings last year that generally result in the ouster of a CEO. Some speculate he is paying the price for the acquisition of Arch Chemicals last year, an attempt on the part of the world’s largest fine chemicals and biologics firm to add a solid third leg in specialties. The move still looks good on paper.
A more recent surprise is the exit of Uwe Brunk, managing director of Saltigo's agricultural and fine chemicals business group. A company press release at Informex said Brunk left the company, "at his own request." He has not yet surfaced. Meanwhile, Joerg Schneider will take his place at the helm of ag chem and industrial fine chemicals unit. Schneider, who joined Bayer in 1978, most recently managed the firm's elastomers business in Brazil.
One other change at the top came up in discussions. Chiral Quest, which announced it will purchase a manufacturing facility in Jiangxi, China, will also appoint the current owner of the plant to the position of CEO, said Ian Lennon, senior vice president of business development. Chiral Quest has not disclosed which facility it is in the process of acquiring. Xumu Zhang, Chiral Quest’s founder, will step down from the position of interim CEO, which he took on with the exit of Joseph Marasco last year. Lennon says the company’s new chief has a lot of manufacturing experience, which is something Chiral Quest needs at the top.
The small pile-up of changes might be coincidental, or they might reflect the reorganization wave in fine chemicals. That wave, in turn, reflects efficiency drives at the big pharma companies, who were largely absent from the affair in New Orleans. Perhaps their travel budget have been cut back. Giles Cottier, CEO of Sigma-Aldrich's SAFC business, says the big story this year is an old one: “Too much extra capacity.” The glut, he points out, is exacerbated by the continuing trend of big pharma exiting manufacturing.
The drug companies are, however, returning from Asia. Mark Griffiths, CEO of Carbogen Amcis, the Swiss firm, points out that the return of business from China and India seems like good news, except that it will likely mean that competition for the business will result in lower prices for contract API services. “So the cycle starts again,” he said.
Attendees were for the most part up-beat this year, some citing record sales growth for 2011. A lot of the good news, however, results from a rebound off the bottom in 2010, a year that for many companies marked a record low for sales. While others dared to rejoice, Cottier and Griffiths were among those scowling at the market fundamentals on the horizon. “There may have been a [sales] spike for some companies this year,” said Cottier. “But I am not sold on the optimism.”
Be that as it may, the clouds are breaking over the Quarter for the first time in a week, and Krewe of Endymion is getting dressed for the big parade tomorrow night. Oh, and welcome to Fine Line, C&EN's new fine chemicals blog! This is post No. 1, right? Laissez les bons temps rouler!