Trusted Executive Foundation Interview with John McNally, CEO, Ineos Olefins & Polymers UK

As one of the CEO’s of Ineos, John heads up the Scottish business of an organisation that produces around 60 million tonnes per annum of petrochemical products from 181 sites in 22 countries across the world. The company employs 18,500 people, most of whom, like John, have spent all their lives in the chemical and oil industries, and has a turnover of $60 billion.

In this interview, John talks about what is important when rebuilding trust after it has been lost. 

On the importance of trust:

‘It’s interesting. The entire industry in polymers is based on trust because if we were to not deliver on time then our customers would have to halt production and would be very keen to replace our materials with others. I put this question to a few of my commercial managers. The answer was “extremely high”. Good customers increase their sales year on year. It’s the backbone of what we do in Ineos: being responsible, committing to our customers that we can make the material safely, being environmentally conscious and providing it continuously. Trust permeates our business. It is a critical element of how we go about doing our daily business.’

On building a high trust culture:

‘In our case, it was about rebuilding trust. We were headline news a couple of years ago for a series of issues that threatened to close our site at Grangemouth. It’s the biggest chemical site in Scotland and its output represents about 6% of the GDP of the country. There was a big dispute with the union and it was quite a traumatic period of time for everyone involved. I came into the job after we had managed to save the site by investing heavily in it. When I went in there people were pretty distrustful. It was a very harsh process that we had gone through and management was not necessarily seen as favourable. My job was to deliver on the promises that had been made and to re-establish trust in the site and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three and a half years.’

‘It was all about being honest. Quite a few of the employees on the site didn’t believe me. My goal was that we should deliver absolutely what we said we’re going to deliver. We’ve been doing that and I think it’s made a big difference but trust can’t be raised overnight. It’s a slow process, but ultimately rewarding. I was extremely aware of the fact that we have a thousand people in our company at Grangemouth who all have families to support, and that being consistent and honest about how we go about running the business is a tremendous responsibility on us to keep all of our people gainfully employed and happy at work. That’s what guided me in rebuilding trust at the plant.’

On measuring trust:

‘I tend to measure trust in a somewhat qualitative way by speaking to employees in groups from 8-10 and up to 150 at a time, and I judge it by how open and candid they are, by the interest they show in the business and the challenging questions they ask: the kind of questions that they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t trust me. These to me are all signs that the organisation is healthy. Recruitment is another measure. We’ve recruited a couple of hundred people since I came into the job. For every vacancy, we get 10-15 applications. I see that as a good measure of trust because if you’re a bad employer, it gets out, especially in the chemicals industry. Another sign of trust is that we had blizzards in Scotland in 2018, one of the first red alert weather warnings we had in the UK. We had a foot of snow outside and what happened was that a lot of people went out of their way to make sure the site continued through a difficult three days of continuous snow. I had people staying in local hotel rooms not because they couldn’t have got home but because there would be no guarantee that they could get back for their shift the next day. That to me means that you’ve got a level of trust amongst the managers and employees that is healthy. So, it’s those qualitative measures that I tend to look at.’

The Nine Habits of Trust:

The Nine Habits of Trust Model

What shines through in this interview with John are his personal values of integrity and authenticity.  Having come through a baptism of fire, the subject of trust naturally intrigues John and he did say that building trust to the mutual benefit of the management team and the employees is probably the most interesting part of his job. What is also clear from the interview is that the habits of delivering on promises for all of the stakeholders, and being consistent, go hand-in-hand with the habits of being open and honest. Given that the company has been in survival mode for the last three years, the habit of evangelising, being outward looking and positive about the future, has been a strength that has helped the company to pull through.

Our thanks to John for his time and for allowing us to share his insights from the interview.

For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video.

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