A lifelong ‘chemical romance’

Doug Edwards
Doug Edwards

Grangemouth’s chemical industry has seen some major changes over the last half century and one man has been there to witness them all.

When Doug Edwards retired from his role as site manufacturing and development manager at Grangemouth’s Calachem last month he brought to a close a 44-year career which has seen him working in various Earls Road plants under a number of banners, including ICI, Zeneca, Avecia and Kemfine.

In an industry which has to change with the times and technology, Doug’s commitment to the company inhabiting the Earls Road site, whatever its name may have been, has been unwavering for over four decades.

He only retired last month once he was sure the firm, which had been struggling for a couple of years, was on the road to recovery.

Doug said: “I couldn’t leave until I was comfortable the company was back on track. Now it is secure again and moving forward with good people, I can move on. I put a lot into this company over the years and I wanted to see it succeed.”

Originally from Aberdeen, the 65-year-old has spent the majority of his life working in Grangemouth. But, after a brief period in the paper industry, his career actually began at Dounreay nuclear power plant in 1966.

During this time he developed an interest in chemistry and this brought him to Grangemoth and ICI in late 1969.

“Some really important products were invented and manufactured here at that time. I arrived just as the first of the big new plants was being commissioned.”

Starting off as a laboratory assistant, Doug studied hard at Paisley College of Technology and became an assistant process engineer, working on problem- solving issues for 10 years before moving into the manufacturing side of the business, becoming a plant manager in 1980.

He said: “There was major restructuring at the site during this time as we tried to cope with increasing competition from the Far East and India where they were developing similar products.”

During this time Doug took on the management of the firm’s Monastral Green product, which was used to create Marks and Spencers shopping bags.

From 1986 to the early 90s he was involved in commissioning new plants on the site, becoming plant operations manager in 1991.

“There was a lot more restructuring going on in the early 1990s,” Doug said. “When I started here at the end of 1969 there were around 1800 employees. By the 1990s we dropped down to about 1000 people just because of the way the industry was changing, with bigger plants that required fewer people to run them.

“Now with CalaChem we have around 190 employees. The biggest single change in my career, though, was ICI splitting into two firms in 1993. In it’s time ICI was one of the biggest companies in the world, now it doesn’t even exist.”

At the dawn of a new century Doug, who had been flying back and forwards across the Atlantic on business, actually moved to Delaware for two years. When he returned to Grangemouth he became site services and development manager.

“We needed to diversify to sustain the company and continue to develop so I started working with Falkirk Council, Scottish Enterprise and others to determine what was possible.

“Scottish Enterprise helped us with the development of our business park. We couldn’t include any companies who required direct access to the public, so no retail outlets. You cannot have people coming in and out of the site in an uncontrolled manner.

“Everyone who comes here as a business has to adhere to our site safety plan. Safety is our number one priority.”

Doug said the Kemfine years, from 2005 to 2010, were some of his most challenging.

“Their strategy for the business just didn’t work. There were some pretty shaky moments in 2009 and 2010 and the management team had to develop a survival plan.

“We were basically put up for sale by our parent company and taken over by Aurelius AG in November 2010. They had a good hard look at us and decided to retain the chemical business. This allowed us to implement our survival plan and in 2011 we started to turn things around. Since then we have won a number of new products, have been expanding and now have an apprentice programme.”

Issues like unpleasant odours, the demise and subsequent demolition of the ICI Social Club to make way for a massive Asda distribution depot and the recent controversy surrounding the firm’s plans for a biomass facility on site have led to some negative feedback locally.

Doug said: “Sometimes the community has fallen out with us over the years, but we have done what we can to sustain and grow good quality jobs in the area. I think the situation with Ineos last year highlighted the potential impact on the area if industry moved out. We just have to do a better job trying to help people understand what we are doing here.”

Doug’s main pleasure in the last 44 years has been the working relationships he has developed.

“I’ve been involved in the introduction of quite a number of new products at different stages of my career, but it is always as part of a team. For me a lot of the enjoyment in working here was the people you worked with, understanding what the company goals were and then trying to achieve them.

“I wouldn’t have stayed here so long if I hadn’t found it interesting and exciting. It’s a great industry to work in.”