Speciality distribution in Asia Pacific
Since it was established in 2001 through the merger of Novorchem (Italy) and Arnaud (France), Azelis has focused on two growth levers – a comprehensive acquisition strategy and a continuous drive for organic growth – to create a leading speciality chemicals and food ingredients distributor. Laurent Nataf, CEO & President Asia Pacific at Azelis, spoke to Sarah Harding, Editor of Speciality Chemicals Magazine, to explain why, and how, expansion in Asia Pacific continues to be a core part of the company’s strategy for the future.
SH: When did Azelis first enter the Asia Pacific market, and what prompted the decision to do so?
LN: Through the various acquisitions made by Azelis since 2001, Azelis has had a long-standing presence in Asia Pacific but more on the sourcing side. The real decision to enter into a distribution business was made in 2011 when we started activities in China, mainly in the food industry.
Azelis had the ambition to be a global player so we couldn’t delay any further our entry to the Asia Pacific market, where most of the global market dynamic was being observed.
SH: What criteria do Azelis use when deciding where to compete in Asia Pacific?
LN: Population, GDP and industrial landscape are some of the key criteria we are using to determine in which country, and in which market, we want to operate.
SH: Azelis provides services in a number of markets, from animal nutrition to plastic additives. Have you found that any particular markets do especially well in Asia Pacific? Are any markets especially challenging?
LN: The food industry is doing especially well. It is an innovative industry in which we see a lot of growth and opportunity, especially for a speciality focused distributor willing to support customers with application labs.
We are growing our presence to serve the agrochemicals formulation industry, leveraging the knowledge we have built in Europe, including our recent acquisition of Ametech. In this segment in particular, population and GDP growth are positively impacting demand.
SH: Has Azelis been able to translate experiences from Europe to Asia Pacific, or have you needed to re-develop your approaches and protocols specifically for the region?
LN: We are leveraging relationships with our key partners in Europe and also in the Americas to extend mandates into Asia Pacific. We are following the processes already known to them in other geographies to manage their business.
We are obviously sharing best practices and transferring our knowledge through our application labs, regular webinars and by sending our experts in Asia Pacific to support the local teams.
SH: Asia Pacific includes a very broad range of countries and cultures. Can that diversity be leveraged by speciality chemicals manufacturers and distributors?
LN: In speciality chemical distribution, business is and has to be local. This statement is in the DNA of Azelis. We are a global company but we serve principals and customers at country level, something which enables us to bring our expertise to each specific market.
Our global reach allows us to better report this market diversity to our partners, help them to align their strategy and to develop solutions, sometimes products, for those local markets.
SH: What has surprised you most about working in Asia Pacific?
LN: Coming from Europe, Asia Pacific is sometimes seen as one growing market but in reality, each country has its own distinct characteristics and requirements. There is very little commonality between Australia, China, India or Japan. Asia-Pacific is more a combination of sub-regions (Indian sub-continent, South East Asia, China, ANZ, Japan). One therefore needs to understand and listen carefully before acting. When you get it, things can happen quickly because the dynamism and willingness of the people are extremely strong. There are certainly some significant differences to working in a mature, well-established market like Europe!
SH: If you had a time machine, what advice would you go back to give yourself and your colleagues, when starting up in the region 11 years ago?
LN: Move faster, much faster and allocate even more resources to the region – but we are now committed to catching up and becoming a market leader in speciality distribution in Asia Pacific.