PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 26, 9:15 a.m. EDT) — For Ticona Chief Executive Officer Edward MuÃ±oz, dinner at a 300-year-old European castle made clear that an e-revolution had started at his company.
The Summit, N.J.-based company and its parent, Celanese AG of Kronberg, Germany, had undergone a restructuring last year, jettisoning some units. MuÃ±oz was talking to Celanese officials about the future — while dining at a Gothic castle.
What came out of the meeting was a realization that old-world ideas were being replaced by the new economy, he said.
"An important change was about to be launched," MuÃ±oz said Oct. 9 during a speech at the E-Business for Chemicals and Plastics 2000 conference in Philadelphia. "We were starting at Celanese from ground zero (for e-business)."
What resulted was a new company directive: More than half of sales would be passed through an Internet portal by the end of 2002. For Celanese, a company that recorded 4.3 billion euros ($4.58 billion) last year, that was no small task.
Celanese plans to spend $30 million this year in e-business initiatives, MuÃ±oz said. About half of that will be spent by Ticona.
MuÃ±oz spoke of what was in store for his company and the industry in general during an interview after his speech. In June, the company started Buy Ticona Direct (www.ticona.com) for online purchasing.
Ticona, a producer of engineering plastics, wants to become an e-business leader among its peers. MuÃ±oz shared some far-reaching ideas to do that, including connecting his resin-supply site to plant molding machines.
What follows are excerpts from that interview:
Q. How have customers reacted to the use of the Internet for purchasing?
A. In the final analysis, we are not quite sure how the customer will react. We had a meeting in February with key customers. We polled them on what they see as important initiatives in the economy and what they would like to see us do.
One of the things we heard was not to let strong relationships be substituted by electronic relationships. We don't want them to start calling up our site and getting a menu of price information, for instance. Part of the relationship is built on trust and loyalty.
Q.What areas do you see electronic commerce moving toward in the future, if you had a crystal ball?
A. I think those fall into the virtual integration chain. If you think about it, we provide the material to an injection molder that molds components, an assembly company that assembles the product and an end user who started the whole thing in design.
Those with deepest pockets are the end user and us. I think we can integrate this in a virtual way. The product cycle can really be shortened if we in some way take a more active leadership role in that.
In the old days, we talked about buying injection molders and assemblers. But we didn't want to compete against our own customers.
(E-business) gives us new ways of doing that. We can even form alliances with strategic assemblers and molders and bid as a virtual alliance on the next cellular phone or hand-held communicator, for example.
On new DaimlerChrysler car models, the phone is tied into the dashboard. In the future, a car with an onboard telephone might be able to hook up shop maintenance to a total diagnostics system and download adjustments to the car.
By using the same concept, we might be able to do the same thing with strategic molders and their machines. We haven't had a lot of conversation about that yet.
Q. How far along is e-business in the resin industry and Ticona in particular?
A. I think we're in about the second inning. We're probably not any worse than anyone and probably a little bit more leading.
Connectivity really starts with relationships. We're talking to some strategic customers about getting into help financing tooling.
That is the first step. Once we enter into tooling, we'll have physical, hard assets at customers to hook up. We're not a bank, but where we have small customers growing at 20-25 percent, they can't always afford the tooling required to sustain growth. We certainly can.
That's the kind of thing I think about doing with strategic customers. And it's the kind of thing where e-business is a catalyst.
We're going to be in position to take advantage of whatever customers and markets decide to do in Internet use and connectivity.