Since Huntsman completed the acquisition of spray polyurethane foam specialist Icynene-Lapolla in February 2020, the coronavirus has made the world a very different place. Yet despite the challenging landscape, the integration of the two businesses has progressed rapidly.
"We were, essentially, bringing together two companies, and three of the largest spray foam brands in the world," said Doug Kramer, who now works for Huntsman, but previously served as CEO and president of Icynene-Lapolla before the acquisition.
Kramer founded Lapolla Industries in Houston back in 2005, and it was acquired by Missisauga, Ontario-based Icynene in 2018. This was the same year that Huntsman made its first big move into downstream SPF insulation, with the acquisition of Demilec.
The newly combined business was rebranded as Huntsman Building Solutions, or HBS, in May. Unusually, it has two presidents: Kramer, who is leading the U.S. business, and Simon Baker, formerly of Demilec, who is looking after Canada and international business.
"We really felt we needed to move quickly," Kramer said. "It all started just before coronavirus began to kick in, and we had to adjust very quickly. It certainly has had an impact on the way we went about the integration, but it didn't really slow us down, and I think overall the merger and the integration has gone extremely well. We had good people at the table, and moved very quickly to make decisions about the structure of the company."
He cites culture as being particularly important when integrating multiple companies.
"It becomes more difficult when you can't sit in rooms together," he said.
Online meeting platforms were a savior, and the team finally is able to have some face-to-face meetings.
"We have been working in our offices at Huntsman's corporate headquarters in The Woodlands, Texas, for a couple of months now, with social distancing, wearing masks, and taking all necessary precautions," he said.
With so much legacy capacity, Kramer said, continuing to service SPF customers throughout the pandemic has been no problem.
"We saw a brief downturn in the second quarter, but a swift recovery after that," he said.
Although there was an overall downturn in April and May, he said, there was a very swift recovery in the residential construction market after that.
"Residential construction in North America has remained strong, and is driving the business," he said. "The commercial side has been more choppy, but it's there, if a little less reliable."
He does, however, believe that a streamlining of its manufacturing will eventually occur.
"In the meantime, not only did we have the tank capacity to ensure we could take care of our customers, we took steps in our manufacturing processes to ensure we had reliable and sustainable practices to ensure consistency and availability of product," he said.
As an example, he said, splitting shifts was an effective way to hedge against coronavirus among the operators; if someone came down with the disease and there were only one shift, manufacturing would have to shut down.
Residential is really driving business at the moment, and now is even reaching pre-coronavirus expectations, Kramer said. While some of the demand is for retrofitting insulation projects, it is largely being driven by new construction.