A lot can happen in three years.
Much has changed since Bradley Drury joined Cremer North America as vice president of sales and marketing in September 2019. After spending more than 20 successful years in manufacturing, the transition to his new role with the legacy oleochemical company would be anything but normal.
Six months after starting his new position, the world shut down. The COVID-19 pandemic took hold, creating tragic and unprecedented challenges throughout 2020. Amid ongoing health and safety concerns and massive shifts in the way the world conducts business, 2021 saw a swift market recovery fueled by the release of built-up demand, only to be hampered with supply chain disruptions throughout 2022.
On a calm Midwestern Friday morning in early November, we sat down with Bradley to get his insights on the oleochemical industry, how Cremer is uniquely positioned to handle today’s supply chain challenges, and what the future holds for one of the leading oleochemical suppliers in the United States.
Good morning, Bradley! Thanks for taking some time. How are you?
Bradley Drury: I’m great, thank you!
Let’s jump in at the beginning. Can you tell us a little about your background and your role at Cremer North America?
BD: Sure. I was born and raised in the UK and came to the United States with my family in 2003. I was relocated with a previous employer. I’ve lived in Cincinnati the entire time I’ve been in the U.S. I had no background in the oleochemical space, so prior to joining Cremer I spent 20 years working for a manufacturing company who developed chemical dispensing equipment primarily for the industrial cleaning space.
Currently I’m responsible for the commercial activity at Cremer. I have a team of nine, made up of business managers who are responsible for securing the supply of product, working closely with our partners both domestically and globally. The other half of our team are our account managers who are in a customer-facing role, working with the customers daily to understand what their needs are. They then collaborate with the business managers to secure the supply of products and services.
In what ways have you seen the industry change in the three years since you joined Cremer and the oleo space?
BD: It’s been a really weird experience because I joined Cremer in September of 2019 and six months later the world stopped. I learn by talking to customers and there weren’t any to talk to – at least not face to face. So, it’s been a bizarre three years. The first year we were dealing with the fallout from COVID. The second year we were dealing with the market recovery from COVID and the third year we’ve been dealing with the supply chain disruptions which have severely hampered many businesses and industries.
Fortunately for us, we have grown throughout this entire period which is a testament to how long we’ve been doing this and our strong, deep relationships on the supply side. Also, our unique positioning insofar as having domestic and global supply chains. So, we found ourselves ideally positioned to grow throughout the past three years. We’re not sure what 2023 has in store for us. If the demand has been steady in the three years I’ve been at Cremer, the challenge has been more on getting the product to the customer. But we expect to see softening of demand next year, we just don’t know how significant that is going to be. Presumably though, the market will still see value in our core competencies: solutions-focused, nimble, customer centric and expertise.
In 2022 in particular, we’ve been able to help a lot of our customers and prevent them from shutting down their plants for lack of supply of material. I’m not saying we’ve gotten it right 100% of the time, but broadly speaking, 2022 has been a great year for us to prove our value to our customers. We have the expertise. We know how to manage global supply chains. We have a great domestic infrastructure in place, and we have committed ourselves to not letting our customers down. A lot of customers are reassessing their own supply chains and the need to work more closely with partners who can support them domestically.
What are some of the bigger, more key trends you’re seeing in the oleo space that maybe were not there three years ago?
BD: I would say the emergence and rapid adoption of renewable diesel, which seems to be displacing biodiesel for various reasons. One byproduct of making biodiesel is it yields glycerin, which is a key product in our portfolio and many others who are in the chemical space.
Renewable diesel, because it’s a different process, does not yield glycerin. As more biodiesel plants either shut down or convert to renewable, that results in less glycerin being available. Also, the shift toward renewable diesel is sucking a lot of feedstock away from other applications and into renewable diesel, so it’s very disruptive.
Cremer has more than a dozen operational departments. How do all the teams manage to coordinate their efforts and work in conjunction to keep up with different customer demands?
BD: It certainly helps that we are all in a single location. And we talk to each other (laughs)! The commercial team works really close with the supply chain team – and with ops and quality assurance too. But really with supply chain, that’s a critical part of the commercial experience. More than that, Cremer is a good company with a good culture. We’re a privately held company and the founding family is still involved in the business. We still benefit from all the positive connotations of being a family company. We’re healthy, we take the long view, and are willing to invest and grow.
How does Cremer continue to stay uniquely positioned to maintain its status as a leading supplier of oleochemicals? What proactive steps do you take to ensure that?
BD: That’s a great question. We are always looking to where we can strategically add other suppliers to the mix to plug any holes or give our customers more options. We’ve also invested in our sales team, which has grown in the last few years. We have more business managers and sales managers developing their sides of the business. We’re able to spend more time with existing customers because we have a more balanced allocation across a larger team, allowing us to engage more frequently.
Trade shows are a huge part of many industries. Now that things have opened back up, including shows, how does Cremer benefit from those? Specifically, a show like Suppliers’ Day?
BD: Our industry is probably no different than any other in that there’s just no substitute for being face-to-face with partners, suppliers or customers. Nothing replicates that. Especially in a fast-moving market that we’ve found ourselves in, first because of COVID and then the recovery from it. It’s that constant “new normal.” I don’t even know what normal is (laughs), I only know three years of chaos! But just being in front of people, you get more out of it. Sitting around a table beats sitting in front of a camera.
Cremer has been around for 76 years. What do think is the next phase for the company?
BD: We’re committed to growing and diversifying the business in North America, both organically and inorganically. Strategic acquisitions – intelligent acquisitions – not just growth for the sake of growth, are something the parent company and the leadership in North America are committed to. Where we believe we can add value through synergies, is where we’ll seek to invest.
One of the hardest things I’ve seen in the last three years is to remain focused. We’re good at what we do. The toughest part has been to just shut out the noise and focus on what we’re good at. Our customers have rewarded us for our success in doing that.
So, we’ve talked about the industry and Cremer. What about you, Bradley? What’s next for you personally and professionally that you want to accomplish?
BD: There’s an annual conference called the Palm Oil Conference that takes place in Malaysia every March. I’ve yet to attend that, but we are planning on attending next year so I’m very excited about that. Hopefully we get to visit a plantation while we’re there so that’ll be really cool and educational.
Professionally, I’m not trying to take over the world. I’m just trying to provide as much value as I can to Cremer. I’ve got a very young and new team, a good balance of experience and opportunities for growth. That’s both challenging and exciting because I get the chance to develop some early career commercial people. That is really stimulating, getting the chance to shape people’s career early on.
Bradley, thank you for spending some time with us and sharing your expertise and insights!
BD: Happy to do it!
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