Mr. Kullmann, the covid-19 pandemic has hit the global economy hard. How has Evonik navigated the crisis?
This development is not leaving us unscathed. However, by comparison to companies in other industries, we are coming through the crisis in a fairly robust condition. As a specialty chemicals company, we have an especially broad range of activities. We serve as a developer and a supplier for all other industries. For example, if automakers sell fewer vehicles, they need fewer products from us. But the demand from other sectors, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, has actually increased.
What do you supply to these other companies?
We develop properties for our customers’ products—specifically, properties that are crucial for these products’ success. We make them healthier, more stable, lighter, and more economical. Our products can be found in cars and wind turbines, in shampoo and toothpaste, in animal feed and medications.
How do your developers know what your customers need?
We’ve been working together with many of our customers for many years, including in the areas of research and development. Besides, as a developer of solutions we try to anticipate early on what our customers’ customers want. Above all, we think in terms of sustainability. Today people all over the world are looking for new solutions that will enable them to use fewer resources, put less strain on the environment, and emit less CO₂. And that’s the foundation of our business model: We make our customers’ products more healthy and more sustainable. That pays off for our customers, and thus for us as well.
Sustainability and the chemical industry: How do these things fit together?
They fit together perfectly. After all, who’s developing the lightweight components for wind turbines? And the batteries for electric vehicles? And the recycling processes for plastics? Our specialists! In the past, the chemical industry and its emissions were certainly part of the problem, but today we are the essential part of the solution. The chemical industry is the backbone of sustainability in very, very many other industries. At Evonik alone, we invest more than €400 million in research and development year after year in order to find solutions for providing clean water, preventing barren fields, and combating climate change. Our activities at Evonik go far beyond chemistry. Not only chemists but also biologists, medical professionals, biotech experts, and many other specialists work in our laboratories.
Christian Kullmann, CEO of Evonik since 2017
In which countries are you doing research?
Evonik is an international company that is active in more than 100 countries. The focus areas of our research and development activities are equally located in the Americas and Asia as well as in Europe. Experience has taught us that companies absolutely must be close to their customers and the markets if they want to be successful in diverse regions of the world. That’s also true of innovation.
The European Union has also committed itself to sustainability through its Green Deal.
This Green Deal offers many opportunities, especially for innovative companies. When it comes to reducing energy consumption and emissions, for example, we can play a major role in these efforts through our products. However, I would like to see the EU Commission developing the Green Deal into a Sustainable Deal.
If you only think about greenness, you’re not thinking far enough. Sustainability is more than just the protection of natural resources. A concept for sustainability can be successful only if it takes environmental, economic, and social aspects into account in equal measure. The challenge lies in making people’s lives better and protecting the environment and the climate. This is our conviction and the motivation that drives us forward.
But you also want to make profits, don’t you?
Of course. Evonik is highly profitable, and that’s a good thing. Aer all, only successful and profitable companies have the strength and the staying power to invest lots of money in research and development. But in the end the crucial factor is always the employees. Companies that want to attract the best men and women have to offer them something. And by that I mean more than just a good salary. The people who work for Evonik today want to achieve something, for themselves and others. They want personal development, they want to strike out in new directions, and they want to have the certainty that they are doing something worthwhile. Our employees’ commitment and determination has become especially visible during the covid-19 crisis. Everyone has pitched in to help. The fact that we are doing so well today is the result of genuine teamwork. And I would like to sincerely thank all of our employees for that!
So your approach has been the right one?
Our company’s success speaks for itself. However, in the past we too have invested money in projects that ultimately were not successful. We too have wrongly assessed economic developments—but misjudgments always make you just a bit wiser in the long run. We learn from our mistakes. And we set ambitious goals for ourselves. We plan to increase our sales by more than €1 billion in our six innovation growth fields by 2025. We also aim to decrease our CO₂ emissions by 50 percent compared to 2008 by 2025. Thanks to our experiences in recent years, I am confident that by working together we will achieve these goals as well.
Evonik makes people’s lives better, day after day. We develop ideas, products, and solutions in close contact with people and in close contact with our customers. Our desire to improve their products is our driving force—and our business. Evonik manufactures about 4,000 products, and new developments are constantly adding to that number. We make fish farming sustainable, car coatings scratch-resistant, and mattresses softer. The areas we cover range from mobility to renewable energy sources, construction, medical technology, and farming. Wherever you live and whatever you do, Evonik is there, because Evonik produces specialty chemicals. This means that we have specialized in carrying out research and development for our customers in order to improve their products. Specialty chemicals is a key sector that brings together very different kinds of expertise, with the goal of making people’s lives better today as well as in the future. In our development processes we go far beyond pure chemistry, into the fields of biotechnology, medicine, and physics.