Mark Newman has been president and CEO of Chemours for less than a week, but he’s hardly new to anything regarding the DuPont spinoff company, aside from the title.
“I like to say I was brought in on day one,” Newman, who started the new role on July 1, said in an interview with Technical.ly. “I was brought in by DuPont in 2014, with the express purpose to work with Mark Vergnano, our first CEO, to take the company public. I’d taken companies public as a CFO before, and this was a very high profile spinoff of DuPont going public.”
The chemical company has 6,500 employees in locations around the world including its headquarters at the Dupont Building in downtown Wilmington and its Discovery Hub research and development center on the STAR Campus at the University of Delaware in Newark. While it was born from DuPont, it has its own culture as a new company under the now-retiring Vergnano.
“We like to say we’re a 200-year startup,” said Newman, who has worked in leadership roles for companies including SunCoke Energy and General Motors since his career began in 1986. “Lots of history, lots of potential for this new company. I was attracted to the company because of its profile, and I was impressed with what Mark Vergnano wanted to do, how he wanted to change the company. I came in early on the ground floor as the first CFO, and about two years ago I was given the opportunity to become its first chief operating officer.”
Within six months of Newman becoming COO at Chemours, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leading the Discovery Hub to close its doors just days after its grand opening event. Newman chaired the company’s crisis leadership team, which oversaw its global response to the pandemic.
“We picked our very clear north star — to keep every employee safe, so they can support their families and communities and meet our customers’ needs,” he said. “That was our mantra, and we had the benefit of a great health and safety staff who understood best practices. Early on, we were shipping PPE to our colleagues in China who had needed it, and, as the pandemic shifted around the world, those same employees arranged for PPE to be direct-shipped to a number of our plants. We gave quite a bit of PPE away to local organizations, including here in Wilmington, and were also able to support a number of folks through our pandemic relief fund activities.”
It pointed at a broader value that the company holds: “There is a very clear expectation at Chemours that you are part of a greater community,” Newman said.
The collective approach and collaboration strategy Chemours used at the height of the global pandemic was not exactly the standard, he said.
“We had some customers that were way bigger than us ringing us up to say ‘how do you run your plants reliably and safely? You seem to have more PPE and more sanitizer than we do and we’re a much bigger company.’ Because we’re collaborating around the world,” Newman said.
The company ran successfully via remote work for more than a year, with researchers able to work at the Discovery Hub safely and socially distant.
“We’re in the process of trying to bring our Wilmington staffing back up to about 40%,” he said. “We’ll try and inch that up. One of the things I’m very proud of is that all through this pandemic, we’ve had zero reported workplace contagions. We’re a science based-company, we follow the science.”
Newman is also committed to social equity as a priority for the company.
“I was born in Jamaica to a Jamaican father and a Canadian mother, so I was exposed to different races and issues growing up in a biracial household,” he said. “When I came to Chemours as a CFO, early on I decided to be the sponsor of the Chemours Black Employee Network. I really just felt there was so much to celebrate with our Black employees, and we really wanted to uplift that element of the Chemours workforce.”
One of the biggest things to come from that network — Chemours has several networks, including a Women’s Network, Pride Network and Early Career Network — is the Future of Chemistry Scholarship. It’s directed at students studying STEM at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This year, after the Chemours Black Employee Network took the concept to The American Chemistry Council, it will provide 150 scholarships, as well.
“We’re proud of the Future of Chemistry Scholarship and its roots at Chemours,” Newman said. With that success ongoing, the next possible step is to target younger kids to get them involved with STEM earlier.
Beyond education and workforce development, Newman says that Chemours has adopted a mantra of holistic, or psychological, safety at the company.
"One of the things I'm very proud of is that all through this pandemic, we've had zero reported workplace contagions. We're a science based-company, we follow the science."
“‘Safety obsession‘ was already a core value of the company, but that focused on physical well-being — you know, we don’t want people to get hurt. But what we realized that there was this greater issue of psychological safety. People being able to be their true selves at work,” he said. “It starts with a zero tolerance on racism and racist acts in the workplace, but we felt it would be more beneficial to connect it with a core value of the company, because if you don’t feel safe at Chemours, how can we expect you to realize your full potential? That came from listening very closely through a number of employee listening sessions.”
Often-taboo workplace topics such as racial equity and gender parity are out in the open.
“This is something that we talk about routinely,” Newman said. “What gets measured gets done. It’s important to not only have initiative but also to look at the data. Also, if you look at the Chemours executive team, I believe it’s one of the most powerful and one of the most diverse in the chemical industry.”
The company, whose brands include Freon, Teflon and Krytox, has committed itself to sustainability and green technology.
“We are working on responsible chemistry technologies that we believe could shape the future of the world, with scientists and manufacturers right here in Wilmington,” he said. “A lot of that is coming out of product devopment out of our Discovery Hub. We have the science to solve the world’s toughest problems, whether it’s autonomous vehicles or the hydrogen economy or even immersion cooling for data centers — the amount of data that is being transferred has created a need for that, and we have the capability to manufacture that chemistry in a responsible way.”