MARK VERGNANO, PRESIDENT & CEO OF CHEMOURS - INDUSTRY LEADERSHIP PROFILE
As the leader of a $6 billion startup, Mark is focused on the next big thing, from increasing titanium dioxide (TiO₂) capacity to drastically lowering the global warming potential (GWP) of its refrigerants. At the same time, he sees the company’s growth potential as firmly grounded in evolving its legacy of safety and stewardship.
The Chemours Company named Mark Vergnano as its first CEO prior to the company’s spinoff from DuPont in July 2015. He brought with him three decades of experience in the chemical industry as well as an enviable legacy of thoughtful, results-driven leadership. Mark used an ambitious five-point transformation plan to navigate financial uncertainties and lead the company through challenges associated with building a new company: adopting policies more appropriate for a smaller company and creating a distinctive corporate culture rooted in entrepreneurship. With the transformation complete, Mark continues to helm a company poised for future profitable growth.
How did your career take you from chemical engineer to CEO & President?
When you’re a student studying engineering, you have very little time for anything else. After graduation, business began to capture more of my attention, so I studied for my MBA at night. Shortly thereafter, someone told me that if you really want to learn about something, you have to learn from the inside—throw yourself in it. And so I did. For 34 years at DuPont, I worked in research and development, manufacturing, sales, and marketing. I lived in different parts of the world, which gave me new perspectives on doing business and on the diverse people and cultures outside the United States. In Chemours, you might start as an engineer but later find yourself on the business or finance side. There are all kinds of opportunities. Wherever I’ve worked, I have always found there’s something new to learn. I think it’s important to re-aim yourself every once in a while, and I don’t think you’re ever making a decision that’s going to have to last forever. I think that’s the best way to find places where you can make the biggest contribution and be happiest.
"We want to make it easy for customers to do business with us. We want to have a simple organization so it’s clear to us and our customers who has decision rights for whatever needs to get done. And we have a great 200-year-old legacy from DuPont to build upon... a legacy of safety and the highest ethical standards, respect for the environment and people."
Where do you see opportunities for Chemours?
Chemistry is the center of this company, so we're very focused. Within that, I see three significant trends.
First, we see a growing middle class around the globe. In China, for example, you have more people buying more of everything—from cars to house paint—than ever before. To supply them, manufacturers need our chemistry to support their business goals—like product performance, quality, and production efficiency—while raising safety and stewardship standards.
Second, there’s a trend in the chemical industry towards disaggregation. Chemours, itself, is a spin-off from DuPont. Other companies are engaged in similar processes. But I think the trend will probably move back towards consolidation within the next four or five years. I’d love for Chemours to be part of that aggregation trend. As our industry evolves, so do our opportunities.
Third, for the first time in a long time, you have a trend toward lower-cost feedstocks for the North American chemical industry in the form of natural gas. I think companies like Chemours that have a strong base in the U.S. will have more opportunities to expand into new and different product lines.
Chemours starts with some great brands and businesses, including Teflon™ and the world's largest titanium dioxide (TiO₂) operation. What is the balance between managing what you have and evolving new products and processes?
This is somewhat chemistry-specific, but I think the bedrock of our company is how do we help the world operate in a safe and sustainable way. We’re in the midst of adding 15% new, low-cost capacity to our TiO₂ business, which will allow us to service more customers with lower costs and evolve higher-value products. But you have to be a stewardship expert to earn the ability to add that scale. We're ramping up our new Opteon™ YF product, which is really bringing low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants to the world. We're starting in cars and will move quickly to home and commercial refrigerators. And the Teflon™ brand is evolving as well; we have just launched a bio-based product called Teflon EcoElite™, which is being used in water-repellent sportswear. In our Chemical Solutions business, we're going to try to grow faster than we have in the past, based on our ability to manage tough processes efficiently and safely.
What is your leadership style?
I like to involve others. We don’t have to get the same answer, but I think having everyone’s energy and expertise is important. I also value decisiveness. You can always regroup on business decisions and course-correct if needed. Finally, I value talent. We have a lot of superbly talented people in Chemours. I’m looking to develop that talent and perhaps bring in more as we grow.
What will make Chemours stand out as different?
We want to make it easy for customers to do business with us. We want to have a simple organization so it’s clear to us and our customers who has decision rights for whatever needs to get done. And we have a great 200-year-old legacy from DuPont to build upon... a legacy of safety and the highest ethical standards, respect for the environment and people. All of that and more will be embodied in Chemours. Our aim is pretty straightforward: we want to generate new products and applications for our customers and profits for our shareholders. As our customers grow, we have the opportunity to grow, too.
My first job was actually multiple jobs. While still in college, I worked on the loading dock for a major retail department store. But during my time there, I also sold shoes for them, worked in the hardware department, and as the janitor some mornings before my first class.
In college, I played in a pickup basketball game every day at lunch, and I struck up an on-court friendship with an older guy named Mike, who turned out to be Dean Michael Howard of the School of Engineering. I’m indebted to him for pointing me towards engineering at a time when I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life.
Chemours is a different kind of chemistry company driven by our purpose to create a more colorful, capable, and cleaner world through the power of chemistry. Built upon a 200-year-old legacy and a world-class product portfolio, we bring everyday convenience to virtually everything people touch—in industries ranging from automotive, paints, and plastics to electronics, construction, energy, and telecommunications.
Mark Vergnano was named the first CEO of The Chemours Company prior to its spinoff from DuPont in July 2015. He brought with him three decades of experience in the chemical industry as well as an enviable legacy of thoughtful and results-driven leadership. Under Mark’s leadership and with an ambitious five-point transformation plan as its blueprint, the company navigated financial uncertainties and addressed the challenges associated with building a new company from the old—challenges that included adopting policies more appropriate for a smaller company and creating a distinctive corporate culture, rooted in entrepreneurship. This transformation—this re-invention—complete, the CEO is now leading a company poised for future profitable growth.
Mark is widely known throughout Chemours as an accessible and collaborative leader. He’s sought to build a culture in which employees at all levels feel free to contribute ideas for improving the company and upholding its corporate values. Vergnano has a passion for safety, one of those values. As an expression of this commitment, he has served on the board of the U.S. National Safety Council (NSC) since 2007 and chair of the NSC Board of Directors from 2017-2019.
Vergnano began his career at DuPont in 1980 as a process engineer in its fibers business. He went on to serve the company in various leadership capacities and geographic locales over the next 35 years with distinction, culminating in his appointment as executive vice president in October 2009. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Vergnano received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Connecticut and master’s degree in business administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a member of the University of Connecticut School of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Engineers and Hall of Fame. Mark serves as Chairman of the American Chemistry Council Board of Directors and co-chair of the Council’s Sustainability Committee. Mark is on the executive committee of the Society of Chemical Industry and the 2018 recipient of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ (AIChE) Government and Industry Leaders (AGILE) Award. He is the immediate past Chairman of the Board of the National Safety Council, where he continues to serve as a board member. He also serves on the advisory board for the University of Connecticut School of Engineering and is a member of the board of directors of Johnson Controls International.
Chemours is a different kind of chemistry company driven by our purpose to create a more colorful, capable, and cleaner world through the power of chemistry. Built upon a 200-year-old legacy and a world-class product portfolio, we bring everyday convenience to virtually everything people touch—in industries ranging from automotive, paints, and plastics to electronics, construction, energy, and telecommunications. We bring solutions that are better, safer, more reliable, and more sustainable, through the power of chemistry.