Growth happens through sustainabilityThe CEO of the Dutch chemical company that recently purchased the Italian company Codyeco, explains the need for a long-term focus on the search for transparency and traceability in the leather chain
An extensive interview with Hans van Haarst, Ceo of Smit & zoon, worldwide supplier of chemical products for the tanning and finishing of leathers. From the commitment towards an increasingly value chain to the goals linked to the acquisition of the Tuscan company Codyeco, to the development prospects of the international market.
-What is the mission of those who lead a historical chemical company such as Smit & zoon nowadays?
“My and my team’s mission consists in the first place in giving continuity to the company, a goal that implies a great responsibility since Smit is a family-owned business that has reached the seventh generation. And in order to give continuity to it in the leather chain, the magic word is sustainability, because there are still challenges and constant attacks on the tanning industry. The more general objective that we pursue is to make the value chain in the leather sector sustainable and provide our clients with comprehensive solutions”.
-How does a company like yours respond to the pressure on the sector?
“The tanning of leather has made much progress, and this progress makes the entire chain more sustainable. We believe that working on concepts of transparency and traceability along the entire chain is the most effective response to the attacks that the sector is subjected to. That is why we have adhered with total conviction to the ZDHC platform: we want to offer our contribution of knowledge and experience to this initiative that aims at implementing sustainable chemistry along the entire value chain. Naturally all this requires a great economic effort that goes hand in hand with a certain corporate size that accounts for the acquisitions too. The initi ative “Product Passport”, which we began last year, also goes in the same direction. A document that, besides indicating all the properties of leather, indicates the impact of its processing on the environment, with a perspective of utmost transparency, and which must be seen as a work in progress towards the progressive reduction of chemical residual volumes in waste water. We invest around 3-4% a year in R6D. It is not little, but right now it indispensable because we are at a crucial stage for the sector”.
-Codyeco was acquired a few months ago. At what point is the integration between the two companies?
“The process of integration is going well partly because – as it has been stated from the beginning – the two companies are absolutely complementary on the market. Smit is strong in the sector of leather for furniture and in the automotive sector at an international level, while Codyeco has an excellent reputation with regard to products for fashion items in the footwear and leather sectors. Together we are able to offer a complete range of products. The cultures of the two companies, both family-owned, easily go hand in hand, and both realities benefit from this integration. Codyeco needed a stronger structure in order to grow outside Italy, and Smit has also been present in a plant in India for a few months. For its part, Smit has acquired the Italian fashion market, which is obviously very important”.
-From the commercial standpoint and from the brand standpoint what changes have you adopted?
“We have changed our model in comparison with the past, where everything was centralized and managed directly by the Dutch headquarters. Today we aim at being closer to the market and to clients, to also obtain feedback more quickly and directly. The traditional agents and distributors who operate on single markets will always be flanked by a local team so that we can offer a more direct and effective assistance service. As for the brands of the individual companies, we are still studying the details, but all three brands in the portfolio (Smit & zoon, Codyeco and Kemiter) have great value and boast a good level of recognizability on the various markets. The products are complementary but some superimposition can happen and, in order to avoid creating competition among the brands, some adjustments on specific markets might be necessary”.
-Where do you see the best development prospects in the near future?
“The automotive segment offers stable growth, while the footwear market, which has been weak in the recent past, should experience a recovery. A lot will depend on national governments’ policies on local markets; we are referring to the Indian and Chinese problems, where every day tanneries are forced to close. In other countries transfers and relocations are taking place. Inevitably, the process of corporate concentration will continue; probably only the strongest tanneries, organized groups, will be able to remain on the market in the next few years. A consolidation phenomenon that will in turn have repercussions on our sector, where a similar process of concentration is taking place. Our strategy is to take part in this process in order to be more and more relevant and have a stronger and stronger impact”.
-Are you thinking about new acquisitions?
That of Codyeco was an important acquisition and we are focusing on that. Nevertheless, should any opportunities arise, we will take them into consideration. For the time being we are working on the integration of all possible synergies into development”.
The Report on Social Responsibility has been published
On March 8 this year Smit & zoon published its annual Report on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which indicates the results achieved by the Dutch company in relation both to the environmental challenges and the social ones. “2017 was an exciting year: we launched new products, opened new commercial offices and application laboratories, and acquired the Italian company Codyeco. All these activities are in line with our mission to be our clients’ favourite partners, providing them with excellent products and solutions” commented the Ceo Hans Van Haarst.
The Dutch company’s CSR strategy focuses on three key areas: environmental footprint, safety and health, being catalysts for innovation.