Interview with Randy Skattum, Celanese – Global Marketing Communications Director
I find that most people have a path or at least a pattern to their careers that are, of course, easier to see when looking back on it or from an outside vantage point. I enjoy interviewing people for this blog on careers and how they got where they are and what they do. I have to say that Randy’s path might appear less straightforward than most careers, but I do see a continued pattern of success and career risk-taking that is noteworthy in his journey. He most recently has been involved in Celanese’s efforts to integrate two acquisitions of companies based in foreign markets. We talked about the challenge and success of these integration efforts and I think there is a lot to learn from him in that arena.
Randy and his team are responsible for accelerating the sales cycle with a focus on engaging clients – domestically and internationally – in a meaningful way to assist in driving commercial interactions. Celanese is a global chemical and polymers company that manufactures a wide range of material solutions used in many everyday items including automobiles, personal care products, electronics, paints and medical equipment. To quote a line from an old movie, The Graduate, Celanese does, “… just one word. Are you listening? … PLASTICS.” But really they do so much more. Here are some interesting responses from my interview with Randy:
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: Our audience is fairly diverse. It includes engineers, designers, and procurement professionals that need to choose the right materials within very defined specifications to create the components and parts of larger projects (e.g., trim pieces in automotive interiors, grips on hammers).
Q: How long have you been at Celanese? And, in the Global Marketing and Communications role?
A: I started in strategic marketing and new business development seven years ago. Following that role, I led the global business for our specialty derivative chemicals. I’ve been managing our Global Marketing and Communications efforts for the last four years.
Q: What are the key deliverables your team provides to the global sales force?
A: Simply stated, it is sales tools, sales training, customer engagement opportunities and content materials. But the difficulty in that task is providing a simpler process for Celanese employees to provide pertinent information to support complex conversations with our clients and potential clients. Our polymers portfolio is quite complex and materials can be used in – or modified – in multiple ways to address a wide range of operational, functional, or financial needs. We strive to make it as easy as possible for clients to find the right solution that they need, when and how they need it.
We reach our audiences in a number of ways: in person meetings, emails, trade shows and conferences and most recently in an online, video-based technical exchange forum that has been successful in the Chinese market.
Q: How do you reach your global audiences and maintain regular communications?
A: We reach our audiences in a number of ways: in person meetings, emails, trade shows and conferences and most recently in an online, video-based technical exchange forum that has been successful in the Chinese market. This new method allows people to learn about our solutions through short lectures and to also discuss the nuances of product requirements in a forum that can provide support for material selection. We strive to meet the customer in the way that works best for them.
Q: What did you do prior to Celanese, and how did it help you in your current role?
A: I worked in the strategic consulting world prior to Celanese. I found that by working with various companies and across industries that the core elements of marketing strategy translate regardless of product or service offering. It breaks down into three key elements:
- ROI – companies need to ensure that where they spend money they are providing a return to the bottom line.
- Marketing Strategy – understanding complexity of products offered, solutions required, and the situations that motivate a client to action.
- Sales Support – providing the frontline people with the process and materials to best communicate a company’s capabilities.
Q: Sounds like you had a great background for this role. Was there anything missing in your experience that you had to learn on the job?
A: Yes, the global nature of this job was new to me, my prior experience was U.S.-based.
The solution to integrate one new company let alone two new companies at any one time is always more elegant on paper than it is in actuality.
Q: Let’s talk about Celanese’s most resent acquisitions. What was the biggest challenge in taking on the integration of two different companies, in three different countries, at the same time?
A: The short answer to that question is people and processes. The solution to integrate one new company let alone two new companies at any one time is always more elegant on paper than it is in actuality. There are two highly linked processes in play in each integration, client integration and employee/staff integration. Client integration provides an excellent opportunity to cement and combine existing client relationship by offering more solutions and/or to simplify their purchasing processes. However, most companies need to realize it is easier to integrate customers than it is to integrate employees. Integrations with employees require managing both the systems people work under, the processes they follow, and the roles that define them and their contributions as an employee. The desire is always to maintain people – and their engagement – but that requires a lot of communication. We have worked hard to keep the employees as involved as possible in the integration process. Any company purchase will involve employee role revisions as companies often end up with job and customer overlap and the new role may require some specialization or rescaling to fit into the existing corporate structure.
Conversations with staff should include candid discussions on what is going away and admitting that not all answers are immediately defined. The process of integrating people as well as procedures requires learning from each company and integrating the best of both to provide customer engagement that makes the most sense.
Q: What advice would you give other Marketing and Communication Departments who are in the process of planning for integration of an acquisition into their existing business?
A: When integrating new companies and employees into your organization these three key things need to be understood:
- Everything you know about your company is BRAND NEW to the newly acquired staff. Institutional knowledge and how to provide value to the customer is a foreign language for both sides of the house and must be shared. A training session should be set up to train each other on history of the company, products and the why’s and how’s of each company’s processes. In other words – put things in context and help the acquired company to become an insider.
- Secondly we need to know and share what the end state of the merger looks like. Be as specific as possible and still maintain flexibility. What roles individuals will have in the new organization will become clearer as the integration efforts play out. It’s important to understand the solution will probably be some middle ground from each company that allows better customer and employee engagement.
- It’s very important to start integration as early as possible! Once due diligence is complete, Marketing Communications staff needs to be heavily involved. In many organizations Marketing Communications is a tertiary consideration in company acquisitions after due diligence. There are many reasons you should involve Marketing Communications early on. Things that need to be taken into consideration are:
- How does the new company attract customers? How similar / dissimilar was your market place positioning?
- What brands do they have? Will the brands be consolidated?
- What trademarks are you purchasing? Are you planning to sell those products in new geographies? (New trademarks may be required in those new regions.)
- What is their sales model (i.e., Direct, Distributor, Agent)? Who are their distribution partners and is there an overlap?
- Does their brand development / marketing approach align with your company? What brand/marketing partnerships do they have? (Such as sport teams or naming rights.)
Q: What advice would you have for people who want to work their way up to your level of an international company?
A: I would say there are five actions that would help anyone progress in a Marketing Communications role in any company. They are:
- Take on complexity. Help to move complex situations forward by breaking them down into their critical elements and providing structure to generate a solution. Leverage your company’s core strategies and institutional knowledge.
- Remember that marketing should help to grow the company. Align to the vision and growth plan; support it and set your vision for how marketing can evolve to meet longer-term goals and objectives.
- Have a curiosity of products/processes and have a willingness to learn. Understand your business products and services. Visit with your customers and understand how they buy from your company. Ask questions; ask “why?”
- Recognize others have done this before and build strong relationships with people doing the same thing. Network, network, network.
- Take these actions to help your career:
- Attend peer to peer events
- Read or listen to books on tape
- Absorb the communications from around your organization and know how other leaders are shaping their functions
- Try marketing something that works in one place and apply it to another situation; translate the successes
- Learn from your success and mistakes; rewrite your play book often
- Get input from others including your direct reports
- Take risks
- Have a passion for the business
Randy provides some really useful information for anyone trying to consolidate new acquisitions but even more insightful are his career actions steps above. It appears to me that he takes his own advice when it comes to his career path. The key thing I see that he has always done is to take smart, strategic risks. The fact that he was willing take the risk of stepping into a global role and learn all he could about Celanese, their products and the additional element of working around the world makes him a singularly unique marketer today. Fortunately, Randy is willing to share with others his path to success. He is often asked to speak at events because of his successes and ability to communicate a clear path for others in our increasingly global marketplace.
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