Paul Jukes, managing director of Arkema Ltd in the UK, has recently taken over as president of the British Plastics Federation. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and has worked in the UK chemicals industry for 33 years:
As a young chartered accountant, it never crossed my mind that I was joining the chemicals industry when I started working for CECA on 2 August 1976: the company was my favourite audit and I was delighted when they asked me to join them. For the last 33 years, however, I have remained linked to this speciality chemicals company, which has gone through many changes of ownership – most notably its takeover by Elf in 1981, Total in 2000, and now through its status as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arkema.
Although I started in the finance part of the business, my career has taken me through all aspects of running a modern-day business, and for more than half of my career I have been managing director of a group company.
Not being a chemist, I have always had a sort of an outsider’s perspective on the chemicals industry. The vast majority of people within the industry are hard-working and very honest, and part of an environmentally sustainable business that contributes so much to human health and wellbeing.
Throughout my career, my children have come before anything else, so I would never work in an industry that could be damaging to them or to the world at large, or one lacking in transparency, as some people have claimed about the chlorine industry, for example. Such claims are, of course, untrue. Actually, the chemicals industry is a real lifesaver: the use of chemicals and polymers in medical products saves and protects the health of millions of people each year, while the industry’s packaging products prevent millions of tonnes of food from being spoiled and wasted.
Coming from the financial world, one of the main challenges during my career has been in dealing with the chemistry, but as MD you learn to keep abreast of all aspects of the business.
There are different views about the type of person that should lead a company. Former BP boss Lord Browne, for example, believed you had to be an oil man through-and-through to run an oil company. But each company is different, and as leader you have to know your own boundaries.
My education was at a Jesuit school where the emphasis was perhaps more on Latin and Greek rather than chemistry. Perhaps if I had had a greater emphasis on science education, I might have been more inclined to study chemistry. This is why I am a big supporter of the Chemical Industry Education Centre in York, which provides books to teachers and students showing how the chemical industry touches everyday life.
The biggest challenge facing the UK chemicals and polymers industries today is the lack of a level playing field when compared with some overseas countries that have protected their manufacturing industries much better than we have. In the UK, for instance, we have introduced measures, such as the Climate Change Levy, which are very worthy but are not being duplicated in other EU countries.
The UK government should also realise that its current one-size-fits-all approach to employment legislation does not work. For example, it is much harder for an industrial company to meet new requirements for things such as paternity leave than for a service industry.
Meanwhile, industry is being threatened with higher employer national insurance contributions – and then being offered various grant schemes to try and claim them back. Instead of all these government ‘initiatives’, we just want to be left alone to compete in the global market.
Paul Jukes, managing director of Arkema Ltd in the UK, has recently taken over as president of the British Plastics Federation. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and has worked in the UK chemicals industry for 33 years.