The residents of Allentown like to say that “This place is in balance.” The Lehigh River meanders through the tranquil city, the third largest in the state of Pennsylvania; the woods and mountains are just a stone’s throw away. Allentown isn’t small, but it’s not big either. It’s not frenetic, but neither is it quiet, and it’s little more than an hour and a half’s drive to vibrant Manhattan. To its 100,000 residents, the city is a great place to live and work – a view shared by WACKER. Since early 2008, the future headquarters for WACKER POLYMERS in the America region has been under construction in Allentown. As a one-stop supplier, the WACKER Group now provides customers with polymer dispersions and dispersible polymer powders on three continents.
Although he’s 100% American, WACKER manager John Tacca greets us with the southern German greeting “Grüß Gott.” His accent adds an extra dose of charm to the affable reception. He sips his coffee and places his cup gently back on his desk, right next to a photograph of his wife and four sons. It’s 8 a.m. in Allentown, and he’s just out of a teleconference with his colleagues in Asia. Tacca, a chemical engineer by training, seems wide awake, though it would be understandable if he were a little tired right now.
The 48-year-old clocked up well over 300,000 air miles in 2008, helping to organize the buyout of the stake held by Air Products and Chemicals (APCI) in two companies which had been run for almost ten years as joint ventures between APCI and WACKER. Much has changed. WACKER’s entire global dispersions business has been consolidated into a new business unit, headquartered in Allentown. John Tacca, who has lived here with his family since 1982, is head of the global dispersions business. In addition to his role as global BU head for dispersions, he is also responsible for WACKER’s polymer operations in North America, where the company now offers a complete portfolio for end products such as exterior insulation and finish systems, paints, adhesives and coatings – similar to the setup in South Korea and Europe.
The “one-stop supplier” strategy is aimed at bringing WACKER POLYMERS closer to its customers and increasing the level of value-added support. Product development, especially development of dispersible polymer powders, will be strengthened, and the skills and capabilities obtained through the complete takeover of the joint ventures will create enhanced opportunities for tailoring development to prevailing market conditions. John Tacca is convinced that “We are closer than ever to our customers.” Nevertheless, every takeover has its uncertainties, not least for the workforce, and this acquisition has been no exception, involving a new structure and organizational changes. The takeover has been particularly radical for the production facilities in South Brunswick, New Jersey, as WACKER is consolidating the whole of its North American manufacturing in Calvert City, Kentucky. John Tacca is, however, sure of one thing: “It’s the best, most efficient solution.” Even so, around 40 staff members will not be making the journey from New Jersey to Kentucky. WACKER is supporting them through retraining and helping them find new jobs.
Little Things Have a Big Effect. For the 100-plus staff in Allentown, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic. “WACKER has a great reputation,” says Tacca, adding that, “The company is known around here for strong, sustainable growth and a commitment to long-term success.” Taking things one step at a time, WACKER has, over the last twelve months, been showing its employees that the company respects their skills and capabilities. As John Tacca recalls, it’s been the little things that have sometimes had the greatest effect on staff – Dr. Peter-Alexander Wacker traveling to Allentown in person to announce the impending acquisition in late 2007, for instance. There have also been a number of subsequent visits from WACKER’s Executive Board members. “That makes an impression,” notes Tacca, “Down-to-earth, communicative senior management is highly welcomed in America.”
There’s also been a well-structured approach to integrating staff and business processes. The IT department is a good example of this. More than 100 different IT systems had to be combined and adapted to enable collaboration. Worldwide, a total of 18 project teams were involved, with the project successfully concluding in August 2008. Pretty extraordinary given that a lot of takeovers fail as a result of IT-related factors. “Our most important weapon was communication,” explains John Tacca, “by means of regular, well-planned teleconferences, for example.” All team members then knew exactly what was expected of them and what they had to do. Problems were tackled as and when they emerged. The result has been that, from the customer’s point of view, the transition period – from ordering to delivery and invoicing – passed without a hitch.
The Gateway to the Big, Wide World. The mood among staff is excellent, too, explains John Tacca, who doesn’t, however, play down the difficulties involved in the integration process, “People who have been working for another company for many years aren’t going to feel part of WACKER overnight.” WACKER will take a key step toward helping them feel part of the company in the near future, with the creation of a new headquarters in Allentown between now and fall 2009. At the same time, the site will, as the lynchpin of WACKER’s reorganized dispersions business, be a key component of the global business. “Integration into WACKER and the creation of a new business unit raises the international profile of our activities,” says John Tacca. Germany, South Korea and China are just as important to the new business unit as the US. This presents the team with both new challenges and new career opportunities. This will become clear for all to see if, for example, a US employee takes up the post of laboratory head as part of a new project in China, explains John Tacca, who himself spent several years working in Cologne. “International guests from every corner of the world will visit Allentown,” says Tacca, adding with a smile, “Sounds good, doesn’t it? Allentown: Gateway to the World!”