A baton is being passed at bio-resin maker NatureWorks LLC, where Dennis McGrew will replace Kathleen Bader as president and chief executive officer Jan. 20.
Bader, age 55, is retiring after two years leading the Minnetonka, Minn.-based firm, a maker of corn-based polylactide resin. Prior to that, Bader had spent 31 years with Dow Chemical Co. NatureWorks was founded in 1997 as a joint venture between Dow and Cargill Inc. Cargill bought out Dow's stake in early 2005.
``I was asked to turn a research-focused organization into a commercially viable and customer-focused one,'' Bader said by phone. ``And I think we've made that transition.''
Doing so required changes in both mind-set and strategy.
``In disposable packaging, we worked with PET processors and made an impact,'' Bader said. ``The key to being a bio-based brand owner is being able to sell your story to customers.''
``We reached crossover points earlier than expected,'' added McGrew, who joined NatureWorks in mid-2004 as vice president and chief marketing officer after a 21-year Dow career. ``We always thought we'd be competitive with PET. Being competitive with polystyrene is where we need to be long-term, and we're heading in that direction.''
NatureWorks has been on a positive run in recent months, including an October announcement that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. would use NatureWorks' PLA material in more than 100 million produce containers. Higher costs of oil-based resins also have narrowed the price gap with bio-based resins, making them more attractive to processors.
The Wal-Mart deal was especially satisfying for Bader and her staff because, she said, it ``went from the bottom of the [Wal-Mart] organization to the top.''
Bader had preliminary conversations with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, but the project didn't get off the ground until a Wal-Mart executive in the firm's produce unit saw NatureWorks' material in use with other customers. That executive then contacted NatureWorks in mid-2004.
``It turned out that [Wal-Mart officials] had more options than they thought,'' Bader said. ``Our material came at a slightly higher price, but they were confident they could drive it through their entire value chain.''
NatureWorks' 300-million-pound-capacity PLA plant in Blair, Neb. also played a role in landing Wal-Mart.
``For Wal-Mart to make a significant commitment [to PLA], they had to have a supplier with economies of scale,'' McGrew said.
In addition to Wal-Mart, grocery chain Wild Oats Markets and food supplier Del Monte Fresh Produce also are using NatureWorks resin.
Handing over the reins to the 45-year-old McGrew ``always was the idea,'' Bader said. McGrew's experience at Dow included a stint as global commercial director of the firm's engineering plastics unit.
Moving ahead, Bader said she'd consider serving as CEO or as a board member at other firms. Her career to date already makes her one of the most accomplished women working in the plastics and chemicals industry.
When Bader joined Dow in 1973, she was the second woman hired in a sales position by the firm. By the end of her Dow career, she was running Dow's styrenics and engineered products unit, with annual sales of $4 billion.