Lionel, expatriate

What is your position?

I am a senior process engineer at the Clearlake plant, in Texas.

What is your training background?

I am a graduate of the INSA school of applied sciences in Toulouse and the IFP School in Rueil-Malmaison. I joined Arkema in 1994 as a process engineer. I worked for a long time in the oxygenated products BU, first in hydrogen peroxide, then in chlorate and sodium perchlorate at the Jarrie plant, where I worked in process and production. Then I joined the acrylics BU in 2010. I worked for a little over five years in the process department at the Carling plant, where I supervised the team in charge of esters, before moving to Texas in early 2016.

What exactly does your expatriate assignment consist of?

I mainly work on long-term development projects for the Clearlake plant. To give you an example, the production process for acrylic acid is not among the most modern, and it is an area in need of development to improve both performance (yields, energy and environmental indices) and reliability. Finally, we have to propose (we, because this is a team effort) the best possible investment plan. Moreover, as I am very familiar with the process and R&D teams in Carling, I can also help to foster exchanges between the different entities.

How did your induction go?

I already knew the plant as I had visited several times, so I already knew some of the people and processes, which helps! But it is more difficult than transferring to a new location in France, because there are many new things to discover. I think it takes an adaptation period of six months before you start to feel at ease.

What difficulties have you had to overcome?

There are some differences in terms of culture, organization... acronyms, for example. Also, they use different units of measurement. Some of the differences are more important, others less, but they all come with their constraints. So you have to learn how to blend in to your new environment, but at the same time bring your own personal touch to it. Furthermore, English was not exactly my strongest subject, but being plunged into Texas can only improve that. When I manage to fully understand true Texan, I think that I will be able to understand English all around the world!

What do you like about this overseas assignment?

From a professional point of view, it is a very enriching experience. I am working on my English and discovering a new work culture. There is no doubt that Americans are often more pragmatic than we are in France. I am gaining international experience that will be very beneficial in my technical profession.

On a more personal note, my family and I are eager to get the most out of our new environment. Especially my children, who go to an international school. By the time we go back to France, they will be perfectly bilingual!

What do you like about Arkema?

I have been working in the same company for more than 20 years, and over the past ten years, I have had an inside perspective of Arkema's profound transformation. I think that Arkema has grown into a global industrial group recognized by its peers and shareholders. Its strategy is clear and, above all, it garners respect.

What challenges do you like to take on?

Experience has shown that even with long-standing processes, it is often possible to improve yields, reliability, the quality of the product, and so on. Often, what was true ten years will not be the case tomorrow. I have always liked this quote from Francis Blanche: "It's better to think about reassessing, instead of just putting a clean dressing."

Is there a particular memory that stands out from your time in Arkema?

The best moments are when projects reach completion and when they work from the word "go", or nearly! But beyond technical achievements, what I remember above all is the teamwork.

Is there anything that you would like to share?

Exchanges between people should be seen as a source of enlightenment, not as a barrier or a constraint. It is important to avoid shutting yourself in your own little world, and to know-how to embrace new ideas and knowledge to make ever greater improvements in our processes.


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