Can An Industrial Company Actually Be Good For The World? A Q&A With Orbia CEO Daniel Martínez-Valle

Once upon a time, business success meant climbing revenues, return on invested capital, and full shareholder pockets. Today, consumers and stakeholders are holding companies to a higher standard – demanding a commitment to authenticity and purpose.

A little over a year ago, Orbia, a global leader in specialty products and innovative solutions, embarked on a transformation that will fundamentally change the company’s approach to business from one that extracts, to one that regenerates, committing to having a positive impact on the planet.  The timing is convenient, as concerns around climate change and sustainability have raised the profile (and impact) of its businesses.

How could one of the world’s largest makers of petrochemicals – an aspect of the business so prominent that, until last week, it was in its name (Mexichem) – contribute to positive global change? Can a company steeped in chemicals, mining, and manufacturing actually make the switch to putting new agriculture, water, and infrastructure businesses at the center?

I recently sat down with Orbia CEO Daniel Martínez-Valle to uncover how the company is evolving, why we should believe in their ability to execute on this aggressive transformation and how they plan to hold themselves accountable. [Contributor Disclosure, Orbia is a KWT Global client].

Aaron Kwittken:  Advancing life around the world is a bold ambition, considering your history as a company. Is it possible? And how will you hold yourselves accountable?

Daniel Martínez-Valle: We have a rich history, but we do so much more than our previous name suggests.  Our agriculture, water and infrastructure businesses often fly under the radar but contribute so much to the world.  Not to mention, many of the businesses traditionally seen as pure chemicals or commodities also do good for the world – our fluorine powers 75% of the world’s inhalers.

We are committed to our transformation, and as a testament to that, our new logo is not a static logo – we call it an ImpactMark and it will put our contributions towards people, planet and profit front and center.  Each year we will update it with our progress towards optimizing our investments, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste, increasing women in management, upskilling our workforce and evolving into an innovative solutions provider.

Kwittken: When and why did you decide to change your name?

Martínez-Valle: Mexichem, now Orbia, is a company that started almost 60 years ago as a small local Mexican company in the chemical space. Over the last 10-15 years, we grew through investment and acquisitions all over the world to become a global leader in polymers, materials, and infrastructure. When I joined the company in 2018, we realized we had become global, and had a unique opportunity to transform the company to focus on a few of the most pressing global challenges our generation is facing. It was time to closely examine why we exist, beyond profit. Long story short, we recognized the need for a fundamental and profound transformation of the company.

Kwittken: Purpose isn’t necessarily what one thinks of in your traditional space. How do you define purpose, and communicate this authentically?

Martínez-Valle: Orbia has five business groups ranging from precision agriculture and infrastructure to polymer solutions. People used to ask what is the connection between those different groups that don’t share the same industries or customer base, and I’m proud to say that our groups are bound by a shared purpose: to advance life around the world. We’ve made a long-term corporate commitment to transforming into a purpose-driven company, to ensure that pursuing solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges is the driver of everything we do. As a company, we are passionate about addressing those challenges, and with our expertise in engineering, materials and manufacturing – we’re well positioned to tackle them. From water scarcity to rapid urbanization to food security, this reorientation reflects a broader, more inclusive expression of our businesses and the global impact we were already having.

Kwittken: What challenges do you face?

Martínez-Valle: This will not happen overnight. It will take time for this new way of thinking about the company to take root, and progress will be imperfect because our larger goal of advancing life around the world is not a clean, perfectly attainable target. Our ImpactMark will challenge and hold us accountable because it is a visual representation of our progress. We want to be transparent with our results, and where there is still work to be done.

Kwittken: What goes into making this change, in terms of getting everyone (investors, clients) on board?

Martínez-Valle: Our employees, customers, and partners continue to be incredibly important. For our employees, elevating their voices and the impactful work they are already doing is central to this process, and to the expression of who Orbia is going forward. Partners likewise continue to be both valuable contributors and beneficiaries of what we do. Our chairman, Juan Pablo del Valle, and our board of directors have been extremely brave to contribute  and support this journey from the beginning and their vision is a key part of our success.

Kwittken: You’ve identified six select issues to tackle, aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals. Walk me through the process of how and why you selected them.

Martínez-Valle: We recognize that we can’t solve the world’s biggest challenges alone, but we can take a collaborative, human-centered approach to building a better future for everyone. With our expertise in engineering, materials and manufacturing, global presence and financial resources, we believe we can have the strongest impact on the following six challenges, which are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development goals: feeding the world sustainably; better managing our water systems; making cities more livable, lovable, and resilient; connecting and empowering communities with data; making health and well-being more accessible; and pushing behind sustainability to regeneration.

Kwittken: What’s next for Orbia?

Martínez-Valle: Orbia’s growth is going to be driven not by what we do, but why we do things. And that will lead us to places around the world – Ethiopia, Rwanda, India – where we have the wherewithal to have an impact. There is a lot of opportunity in emerging markets, and also a good platform for continued growth in developed countries. We’ve also created an environment in which innovation can be systematically created and commercialized, and that ecosystem will be a big driver in the solutions we’re able to implement around the world.

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