From its headquarters in Leeds, Yorkshire, Brenntag UK & Ireland offers its business partners a wide range of products and value added services such as filling services and mixing and blending, as well as technical support for various industries within the life science, environmental and material science sectors. Chemical Industry Journal asked Russel Argo, President Brenntag UK & Ireland about the company’s success and its hopes for the future.

President Russel Argo’s own career encapsulates the company’s recent growth and diversity. He joined Hays Chemicals, a major chlor-alkali manufacturer, in 2001. Following the management buy-out that created Albion Chemicals, he worked in the sales and distribution network, was briefly with the solvents business and trained as an assistant general manager at several sites.

He then became general manager at the Lutterworth site when Brenntag acquired Albion in 2006 and merged their operations. He became a regional manager in the south of England, then supply chain director and business services director, taking on his role as the President of Brenntag UK & Ireland in 2013.

Brenntag UK & Ireland is part of the organisation that dates back close to 150 years – what is the key to such continued success?

Listening to our customers. Listening to our customers’ needs and challenges, then adapting our organisation to be able to meet those needs head on. We have always, and continue to seek opportunities with our fantastically diverse and often unique customers.

Chemical distribution of specialty and industrial chemicals has been Brenntag’s successful focus for several decades. Historically, we have been focused on chlor-alkali, solvents and industrial chemicals, and these, along with an unrivalled ability to take cost out of the supply chain with our economies of scale, continue to be core market strengths.

Over the last 10 years however our business model has been rapidly changing, to now also lead in the supply of specialty chemicals and bespoke added value services like specialist blending and formulation support. Our own scale and diversification has mirrored that of many of our customers over the period, with now large coordinated but separate industry focused specialist technical sales teams ready to work closely with customers to develop new products and new application advantage.

Adding expertise and new portfolio has also been critical to Brenntag UK & Ireland’s continued growth and development whether that be organically or by acquisition over the period. More recent examples of this would be the 2012 acquisition of Multisol Group – a company that specialises in the formulation, blending and distribution of high value fuel and lubricant additives, base oils and speciality chemicals. This business also brought with it great opportunity for growth in the solvent and performance liquid sector and has brought on 17 new speciality chemical distribution agreements and a raft of talented sector expertise.

Investment in operational service capability has also been a mainstay of our successful growth story and that lives on to this day with recent announcements of our £50 million investment for the future plan for Brenntag UK & Ireland.

These investments are allowing us to make major advancements in areas such as Water Treatment for instance, where a new laboratory and application centre are already allowing us to solve customer’s effluent and water treatment complex challenges.

Added value is an important and much talked about aspect in chemical distribution industry and can come in a number of forms from improving customer service to providing technical support for our business partners including customers and suppliers. We have decisively up skilled and diversified in the arena of specialty chemistry, to now be in many ways a technical leader in a number of industry sectors within the life sciences, environmental and material sciences sectors. We have built on our established material science teams and embraced new market sectors including coatings and construction, rubber, polymers, as well as dyestuffs, pigments and performance products through our well established Brenntag Colours business.

Throughout all our developments, customer service is always at the forefront of our planning and investing and as such we now employ close to 900 people across 22 strategic sites in the UK and Ireland, including three sea-fed facilities with a dedicated own fleet of over 100 vehicles, offering a portfolio of over 10,000 products to more than 20,000 customers. Such robust and comprehensive infrastructure provides the necessary efficiency for both industrial and specialty chemical products, creating true value for our customers, and the ability, we think, to offer the best customer service in the industry.

What are your big hopes for 2017?

I am truly excited for 2017, particularly with the investments planned to support our strategy. We are aiming to further increase our capacity to service customers across all of the segments of the life science, material science, and environmental industries that we operate in. For illustration, a new food application centre featuring formulation, product and stability testing has been completed at Brenntag UK’s Widnes food ingredients hub site, along with a new GMP solvent filling facility at Scunthorpe currently under development to further support us in the expanding pharma and cosmetics sector.

The offering of Brenntag Blending Services (BBS), which already maintains the highest level of service at a number of strategic operational locations across the UK & Ireland, will this year be expanded even further. In particular, we have upgraded our blending facilities and the application laboratory at Bradford BBS facility, and are nearing the completion of a major investment and redevelopment project at Lutterworth dedicated to solutionising and multi-component blends, allowing us to offer our customers an even more comprehensive range of added value services for both life and material science sectors.

What impact are continued regulatory changes like REACH having on your business?

The regulatory environment certainly remains on an exponential complex curve. Addressing regulatory challenges is an absolute must across all industries and is undoubtedly an area of strength for us. By leveraging our position with the scale of expertise within not only Brenntag UK but also the wider Brenntag group we are able to support our customers large or small. Whether it is REACH, Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR) or industry specific regulation we will have the capability

Our market intelligence shows that sustainability as a market driver will only accelerate, as industry regulations will stipulate the introduction of more sustainable product supply chains. For instance, as both the manufacturer and distributor of biocidal products, Brenntag have been able to assist our suppliers and customers in their understanding of BPR. Furthermore, the introduction of this piece of regulation in 2013 led to Brenntag bringing to market Clorious2 – an innovative chlorine dioxide solution that allows manufacturers to overcome the limitations associated with conventional chlorine dioxide generation techniques.

Another example of our continuous focus on innovation in the environmental industry is our AdBlue business. We have invested in our already significant AdBlue business offering solutions to large truck fleets, and thanks to the expertise of our teams a new revolutionary Brenntag AdBlue dispensing solution which we will launch imminently for the consumer market.

What impact do you think Brexit will have?

The impact on economic performance of the Brexit is impossible to estimate at present time. It might bring both opportunities and challenges to our customers and suppliers. The chemical distribution sector is resilient, with plenty of growth opportunities, and we as the global market leader are extremely well positioned to meet them.

Clearly we all await the outcome of the ongoing EU negotiations. But irrespective Brenntag UK & Ireland remains fully committed to supporting the growth of our customers, and our industry expert teams are well prepared for what may come . We are totally focused on supporting the UK & Ireland customers in all aspects of chemical distribution, including challenges of currency fluctuation, regulatory and legislative opt in/outs or reliability of the supply chain. We will continue to work towards the global Brenntag Group’s ‘2020 vision’, which is to be the preferred distributor for both speciality and industrial chemicals. We are built to adapt to change.