The rookies of chemical consulting are a team of old hands: In an interview, the founders of JF Chemical Associates explain what makes their company different from others, what is behind their “buy & build“ strategy – and send a call to women in the chemical industry.

Rüdiger Funke and Achim Mauruschat – what makes your consulting company different from others?
RF First of all, we define exactly who we advise: We focus on the chemical industry, including polymers industry. With the „boutique“ idea, we want to clearly set ourselves apart from the approach of large consulting firms. We advise at a very high level, but also very quickly, i.e. with short reaction times. We are an agile, small speedboat in the consulting waters.Instead of talking about size, we prefer to talk about the company perspective
AM We recently managed a divestment process in five months, which is fast – but before that we were able to carry out a complete strategy review. This also sets us apart from the competition: we don’t have typical consultants with a 20-year consulting career, but very experienced managers from the chemical industry, from ex-CFO to former CTO. We have all been active in the industry for 15 to 20 years and have put the consulting career on top. From the outset, our people offer a dimension more of know-how and expertise than the typical consultant.
RF And that’s why the boutique idea works in practice: In our team of 16 people, experts talk to each other directly and as equals; they don’t have to go through hierarchical communication channels from junior to senior consultant to partner.

How does your “immersive” expertise pay off for clients?
RF Our expertise can ensure that a desired financial goal can be increased. We analyze where the strengths of the company lie, examine its entire range and can make it more valuable. We salvage the important things and can put the less favorable ones into perspective. It’s an expertise that others buy; we can pass it on unfiltered.We stay on after the merger: we’re there to achieve the goals.
AM In a typical M&A process, the deal is agreed and carried out, then the closing comes and the advisors disappear. The buyer often realizes too late that he will not achieve the planned goals; statistically, this is the case in 75% of M&A cases. We, on the other hand, always offer post-closing advise. We are there when it comes to integrating new business activities, realizing synergies and carrying out additional optimizations and operational excellence. It is automatically part of our offer.
RF If the client needs help after the closing, he typically gets new consultants – they might have done everything differently or declared the goals to be utopian. We want to counter this game with something: We stay. We never built castles in the air before. And when it comes to implementation, we are there to achieve the goals.

Do you advise companies of any size or are there lower or upper limits?
RF Instead of talking about size, we prefer to talk about the company perspective – that of the medium-sized company that sells to a group, that of the group that wants to grow, or medium-sized companies to medium-sized companies. We know how big things get bigger, but we also have the knowledge of medium-sized companies. We map all perspectives.
AM And we also have another approach. With “Buy&Build“ we develop strategies to create a real player in a market segment: not just by buying a company – but possibly combining 2, 3 or 4 companies, resulting in clear competitive advantages. This generates significantly more benefit.

You are a German consultancy, but active globally – even as far as Asia?
AM This is correct. We are committed to chemistry and polymers, and in this industry you can not stay at a country- and not even at a European level. We need to be able to act globally and we actually cover all regions. We do this with our own offices and employees, but also with alliances and partnerships. No matter where a company wants to buy, sell or be active, we can offer our services there.

That sounds like an amazing success story. Do you still see yourself as a startup?
RF We raised the venture capital by ourselves, so in that sense we were a veteran startup in 2018. We started with a focus on Asia because we had a well established network there. Then came Covid, and with it the complete standstill. We used the time to further expand our network. And then started again.

How do you see the business situation at the moment – in view of trouble spots like Ukraine/Russia and crisis issues like climate change?
RF There are always waves of extreme interest in acquisitions, especially when there is a lot of money floating around. At the moment there is fear of the future, but the stock markets are not crashing, corrections are rather being made. Companies report difficult years, but at the same time record profits – this money must be invested.Our consultants are all highly experienced managers from the chemical industry
AM Money is cheap, which supports the M&A market. But there are also question marks on the energy markets and with regard to energy prices. We will never get gas at the old price again, and that will disrupt the industry. Even if nobody wants to talk about it, it will have an impact on Germany as an industrial location.
RF Sometimes we have different opinions. I say: We had the oil crisis in the 70s, the Pershing crisis in the 80s, the nuclear crisis with Chernobyl, wars in the Middle East, we survived a global economic crisis and Corona after the real estate bubble burst in 2008. I’m not that pessimistic.

Keyword climate change: What about the aspect of sustainability in transactions in your industry?
AM Realistically, everyone thinks first of its own wallet in this area too. In principle, however, we have come so far that insufficient sustainability automatically has financial consequences. That’s why it’s being taken seriously, and that’s a very good development.
RF The topic is value-added and, above all, exportable. Whoever buys asks the question of sustainability, whoever sells must prepare themselves for the question. We conduct analysis to determine how a company is positioned in this regard. We have secured a partnership with specialists to offer our customers the perfect service.

Away from the core business towards the corporate culture. What matters to you?
RF Humanity! We treat people as they should, with decency and honesty. I call it working with style. We select our team accordingly, and we orientate ourselves when deciding on clients and contracts. Ethics is an important factor for us. And to be honest: Of course we want to have fun, even if it involves hard work. The interpersonal relationships on the customer, client and partner side must fit. The team we have is great, professionally and personally.
AM It is important that you think and behave in the same way when it comes to the big things. We want to concentrate fully on our tasks and our customers – and not have to solve superfluous internal problems.

What’s next on your agenda?
RF For example a human resource issue. Our big challenge is to find female profiles that meet our requirements: 10-20 years of career in the chemical or polymer industry and the desire to switch to consulting. We’re a bit dissatisfied with the imbalance in our team and would like to change that. Women used to be a rarity in the industry. Fortunately, a lot has happened in the chemical industry. Feel free to take this conversation as a call.