Change is never easy in business. From taking on new business models to reintroducing a company to customers, evolution and transformation are not for the faint of heart.
But that’s just what Ashland has done in recent years. And customers and shareholders say the company is on the right track, says Brian McGrath, Ashland’s vice president for health and wellness and global supply chain.
“We’ve been going through a transformation over the last several years as a company,” McGrath says. “We’re well on our way to being a specialty chemical company.”
Founded in 1924, Ashland has evolved significantly from being a commodity distribution company with interests in oil refining and other sectors. The company acquired Wilmington-based chemical company Hercules in 2008 in a $3.3 billion deal, and in 2017 split off the automotive and lubricant company Valvoline into a separate entity.
Last year, Ashland saw $3.26 billion in sales, with 250 employees at its campus in Wilmington and a total of more than 6,000 employees around the globe. The company is pursuing new products and services, and in 2016 added 2,000 square feet of space to its coatings lab in Wilmington as part of its overall innovation effort.
Ashland, which offers a range of products including in food, personal care, pharmaceuticals and industrial applications, rebranded in recent years, adopting the tagline “Always Solving.” McGrath says the rebrand “highlights our transformation” as a company, business model and a brand and speaks to the company’s approach to working with customers.
“That’s really what we’re known for — providing solutions to our customers with their most difficult challenges across a broad array of industries,” McGrath says.
McGrath credits application scientists at Ashland’s research center in Wilmington as playing a significant role in the company’s go-to-market strategy for health and wellness, personal care and other industrial segments. “Many of them are technologists and are well known in the industries we serve as being solution providers,” he says.
Tracing its roots back to Hercules’ founding in 1912, McGrath says the company has long been supported by the Wilmington community, adding that “we feel like we have access to some of the best talent in the Mid-Atlantic.”
He notes Ashland’s support for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs as part of cultivating excellent talent in the sciences. Among various efforts, the company sponsors the Delaware STEM Symposium and the STEM Educator Awards.
Says McGrath, “We’ve been a big believer in that program and quite frankly, we think we’ve benefited from being a part of it.”