Weathering the economic storm - staying true to a long-term vision is key

Author: Michael J. Graff (MSChE ’79; OChE 2002; DEA 2008)
As companies face tough economic decisions and strategies for survival, ChE alumnus Michael J. Graff, a veteran of the industry with more than 30 years of experience, offers some insights. As president and chief executive officer of Air Liquide USA, he has seen the crisis up close and believes there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Michael J. GraffOver the years and certainly since I began my professional career after graduating from Purdue, the U.S. and worldwide economies have experienced a number of recessionary periods which were driven by a variety of factors including the rise in oil and energy prices, overcapacity and supply, the collapse of the savings and loan sector and, in the current recession, the near disappearance of credit markets.

Whatever the root cause is, we see that the effects of a recession tend to be the same with falling production, employment, investments, income and profits. While serious economic slowdowns are marked by generalized uncertainty, what is certain is that change always follows. Markets are disrupted, affected industries are restructured to some degree, companies need to modify their development plans, and governments often enact new or updated laws and regulations to stimulate the economy with increased spending and/or reduced taxes.

In these difficult times, companies must stay true to their strategic vision, recognizing however that the path to get there will evolve. With a focus on managing cash, resources and costs, developing efficiencies and unlocking the talents of its people to create technological innovation, a business can develop a resilient model that provides value to customers and emerge from economic turns in a stronger position, ready to seize the advantage and capture opportunities in the recovery period.

Our globalized world is now the stage of a confluence of interdependent issues affecting societies, the environment and trade. At Air Liquide, we see firsthand the effects of the economic slowdown on our customers and business partners worldwide.

Air Liquide’s products (gases and advanced technologies) touch virtually every industry in every part of the world including health care, food and pharmaceuticals, water purification, petrochemicals and refining, enhanced oil recovery and natural gas production, glass, steel, automotive and semiconductors. We are proud that our gases and technologies help curb polluting emissions, lower energy use, recover and reuse natural resources and are used
to develop the energies of tomorrow, such as hydrogen, biofuels and photovoltaic energy.

Through the talents and “can do” attitude of our people, coupled with the diversity of our teams, businesses, markets and geographic presence, I feel we have a resilient model to pursue growth throughout the economic cycles. We are striving to enable our customers worldwide to grow and evolve in key sectors and regions, and to create and develop new markets thanks to innovative applications. As a leader in industry, we are also cognizant of our responsibilities, thus seeking to assure a safe and sustainable approach in all we do, working jointly with our employees, customers and the communities in which we operate to fulfill our social and environmental responsibilities.

Our company, with 43,000 employees in 76 countries worldwide (4,500 in the U.S.) recognizes the tremendous stakes the economic downturn holds. In response we are working to combine many products and technologies to develop valuable applications and services not only for our customers but for society at large. I feel that the key
is to anticipate the challenges facing our customers and future market needs worldwide; innovating to
enable progress, to achieve dynamic growth, and deliver sustainable value for our customers, employees
and shareholders.