I’m a Chemical Trader – Now What? 12

I am a Chemical Trader (industrial, not recreational).

I’m also CEO of a $70,000,000+ multinational Chemical Company.  I have led a team that started as two people in a spare bedroom in my house and today has 33 people working in 5 nations around the world.  We have aspirations and a strategy to be a $200,000,000 company. Throughout 19 years, I’ve have worked extremely hard, been fortunate enough to surround myself with incredible talent, made some big mistakes, hit some huge home runs, and love being ‘in the game’.

The Problem
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more CEO’ing than Trading – and I’m tired of it.  It’s not doing me any good, and certainly not the company.  I want the days back where I wish Saturdays were Mondays.

I’m returning from the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Chemical Distributors (www.nacd.com), and spoke to a number of my peers about this dilemma.  I feel like I’m not contributing, nor participating in the daily battles we face in the market.  I am buried in email and meetings.  Does this sound familiar? The vast majority of tasks I take on could be, should be, or are handled by people much better suited than I to handle these tasks.  Approximately 75-85 out of every 100 emails come to me from within the company (n.b., I have not included the Nigerian Prince emails or the relentless onslaught of M&A emails that arbitrarily yet consistently pop up), I want that ratio reversed with the majority of my mail relating to buying and selling products.  And, if they are from inside the company – I want to be working with my team to put business together.  Commerce only!  No bankers, no lawyers, no insurance brokers, no interviews, no 1:1’s with staff, no annual reviews…Other people do that. I want to sell. That’s what I do best.

Does anyone else face this problem? Do tell.

The Initial Solution
I’m getting back ‘in the game’, and I’m cutting the CEO stuff cold turkey.  I’m handing over the operation of the company to an extremely trusted Lieutenant.  I am lucky to have her… She’ll do a lot better than I at that segment of the business.  I’m not going away… I’m still going to work on CEO stuff like ‘managing the mood’ and ‘creating the future’, but I’m going to be active in the daily battle of commerce while we get there.

The Issue
The company was founded in my home in Leschi (Seattle) Washington USA in 1994, and as could be expected from a founder of a startup, I was the top revenue producer in the early years.  We grew. And we grew. And we grew some more.  Now 33 people in 6 countries and my personal production is negligible.  I want to get back in the fight. I want to be the top producer again.  My ego demands it. I am now surrounded by incredible talent, so my feelings won’t be hurt if I’m not on top… I just want that rush of getting that order.  Of working 24 hours calling different time zones moving east as the sun rises…moving, shaking…making it happen.

But, it’s a new world since I started with a few phone numbers, a calculator and $30,000 in the bank.  When I got into the industry in 1988 I recall only about 40% of companies had fax machines. Yes, everyone under 30 years old…google it.  Fax Machines.   By 1994, everyone had fax machines, but email was beginning to creep in.  My first email address (and there was no flexibility to change) was 83465@compuserve.com    Those were the days my friends.  About 30% of people in the industry and many a time you heard… “I don’t do that email stuff, why don’t you just pick up the damn phone… or, if you have to just fax me something”.  In 1995, we were one of the first companies in the industry with a website.  To ‘mass market’ prospects and potential customers/suppliers, I would print each and every fax and stand by the fax machine patiently as each page spit itself thru the rollers ever so slowly.

Fast forward to 2013.  Yes Mom, it’s a different world.  iPads, Airplay, SkyDrive, GoToMeeting, Smart Phones, Instant Messaging, Texting, What’s App, Skype Video Calls, Linked In, Twitter, etc…, and of course the relentless timesuck – Facebook.  Google/Bing… forget about it! Here is what ‘Search’ was… We used to rummage thru the Stanford Research Institute’s (SRI) “Green Book” and “Red Book” to find leads, determine producers.  At the price of about $10,000/set – owning these gained us quite a competitive advantage.

The latest in meeting technology...Conference Calls on MSFT Lync.  Seattle, New Jersey, Dubai, Delhi and Capetown represented here.

The latest in meeting technology…Conference Calls on MSFT Lync. Seattle, New Jersey, Dubai, Delhi and Capetown represented here.

I’ve got some thoughts, but how are any of us expected to gain a competitive advantage?  Everything happens so fast. I’d welcome any dialogue on these issues… I have my thoughts, please share yours.

So, as of next week I have a new job.  Senior Trader.  Any item, issue, or email that does not relate to buying and selling product and moving this company forward will be ‘declined’ (apologies to Michelle Connor, Marjalena Santos, and Megan Gluth). I’m going to take every business card I have been given for the past 10 years… (work with me folks… who has ever come back from a tradeshow and followed up on none of those cards?   Anyone? Anyone?). Then, I’m attacking LinkedIn and actually going to learn about my ‘connections’ and the companies they work for. Then, the fun starts….a blitzkrieg of phone calls, followed by email after I leave the inevitable voicemail.   If you are so lucky to be both reading this blog, and on the business card or LinkedIn list… you’ll be receiving these so get ready …. I want to figure out how we can do business. And I humbly look forward to it.

The Question
So here is my question, how are ‘chemical guys’ using the various social media outlets today?

Twitter?   It is a reasonable news source, but significant and real information does not seem hit this medium.

LinkedIn?  A glorified industry contact album canvassed solely by headhunters trying to steal my employees?

The Web?  Corporate Websites?  They appear to me to be digital brochures.  How are people using the web to trade, and commerce?

Exchanges?  Do any of these work.  I remember during the dot com bubble… ‘the industry as we know it will disappear…everything will be bought on the internet… auctions will rule the day, etc…. ‘.

So, where are we today?… Same place we were in 1988… purchaser picks up the phone (or the 2013 version of picking up the phone i.e., email) and places an order…. Can this ever change?  Will an Amazon style marketplace ever exist?

These are my questions… I’d love to hear input.  Meanwhile, I’ll be back in the trenches – loving every minute doing what got us here, but was forgotten so long ago.  I’ll report on my success (or other outcome) later.

I plan on coming out very soon with the first Chemical Trading and Distribution podcast.  These cast will feature prominent individuals from the chemical field speaking their mind on issues related to our industry. We’ll have a little fun too!

Please post your comments in the forums below, or contact me on Twitter (tonyridnell) or email (tr@ridnell.com).

12 comments

  1. Pingback: “Money Never Sleeps”, until…!!! « Tony Ridnell

  2. CEO role requires less noise than anythings else. I mean emails, social media, etc. First line directors and/or VP’s should filter what comes to their way and non should come into your way.

    • Saleh, I agree with you to a point. It also depends on where you/I may have started out. While I never considered myself a ‘micromanager’, I always want to be kept in the know. That turned into a situation where I ended up having little/no direct and accountable commercial responsibility. Bottom line is, we are seeking to place all our staff in their ‘best and highest use’. Mine is not in the management side, but the commercial side. Thanks for taking the time to view and comment on my blog post.

    • Hi Jack, thanks for viewing my blog post. Yes – it has been a few weeks not back in the trading/selling mode and I’m loving it. I think the company is better for it as well. In fact, I know the company is better for it!

  3. Pingback: Why Blog on the Chemical Industry? « Tony Ridnell

  4. TR where do you find the time to write these thing ?
    mmm – where did i find the time to read it….?

    you make a good point – it is the equilibrium that you need to find between the 2 jobs – CEO in your mind, trader in heart…

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