With its 75-year history, Air Products & Chemicals is looking to preserve its history and culture in the Lehigh Valley as it eyes land locally for a new headquarters while also targeting additional growth opportunities overseas.
Seifi Ghasemi, the leader of one of the largest manufacturers in the region, spoke about his company’s plans, shared his thoughts on visionary leadership and talked about his own path to success at an open forum this morning hosted by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Saucon Valley Country Club.
As chairman, president and CEO of Air Products, Ghasemi said his company has a tradition it needs to preserve, yet, at the same time, needs a new headquarters. Its home base in the Trexlertown portion of Upper Macungie Township consists of several sprawling buildings for its roughly 2,300 employees.
“We are going to build a new headquarters and its definitely going to be in the Lehigh Valley,” Ghasemi told a packed audience. “We are not ready to do that yet. We are going to tell our employees first.
“I want the headquarters to be in the Lehigh Valley because I think there is that history and culture that is worth preserving.”
He said the company possibly could make an announcement about the site next month.
Though it’s not certain when the move would occur, the company’s departure would leave a vast tract of land vacant near the busy Route 222 bypass with Route 100.
ACQUISITIONS, GLOBAL EXPANSION
While Ghasemi spoke about the importance of preserving the culture of the company by remaining in the Valley, he also discussed the significant growth opportunities he sees for his company in China, India, the Middle East and Russia.
Yet he also wants to buy companies and build plants in the United States, noting that Air Products has the capacity to invest $15 billion the next five years.
“Fortunately, we have a very strong balance sheet,” Ghasemi said. “Four years ago, we had $6 billion in debt. Today, we have no debt.”
STRATEGY AND EXECUTION
One of the challenges leaders of large corporations often face is the pressure that comes from investors looking to ensure their CEO is performing.
However, by having a credible strategy and the ability to execute on that strategy, leaders can alleviate that pressure.
“If you are performing, there is no pressure,” Ghasemi said. “Right now, we have a wonderful relationship with our investors. The investors put a lot of pressure on you if you are not performing. … It’s only execution that makes it real.”
For leaders to perform, they need employees who are motivated, he added.
HUNGRY FOR CHANGE
When he came to Air Products as its new leader in 2014, Ghasemi said he met with smaller groups of workers at a time.
The people were hungry for change, and after discussing the issues with them, understood the real problems, he said. Ghasemi emphasized that he was on their side and encouraged them to work toward a goal.
“Then we had a plan. We were very honest with them, and, as a result, we built credibility,” Ghasemi said. “You need to tell people where you are going.”
Ghasemi also noted that it’s important for the CEO that the plan doesn’t change in three months.
“You need to do what’s right for the company in the long term,” he said.
This is particularly true when it takes on business from clients.
“A lot of contracts we sign with people are 30-year contracts.”
The U.S. is facing real challenges with uncertainties, such as the potential for sanctions made against the nation’s trade allies such as Canada that can change the world order and be very unsettling, he said.
“Our business is local. We don’t have our products moving around [overseas], so tariffs don’t really affect our business on an immediate basis,” Ghasemi said. (Air Products’ international business is by its existing plants that are established overseas.)
“It does make it more difficult because you have to deal with uncertainties,” he said.
Ghasemi also spoke about the importance of sustainability and talked about how his company improved safety over the years.
“It’s very irresponsible to ignore climate change, and the people who need to act responsibly are the CEOs,” he said. “We are very committed to that.”
Ghasemi, who was born and raised in Iran, also spoke about how he came to America and earned a master’s degree from Stanford University, then worked for a variety of companies, including those in the industrial gases industry, before joining the board at Air Products and later becoming its leader.