Jim Fitterling, chairman and CEO of Dow speaks about being at the helm of a global company manufacturing essential goods and materials in the COVID-19 era in an exclusive interview as part of the CERAWeek Conversations series.
During a wide-ranging discussion with Daniel Yergin, vice chairman, IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO), Mr. Fitterling talks about when and how it would be possible to reopen the economy, which types of transportation could come back sooner, and balancing the near-term indispensability of plastics with the long-term goal of moving towards a circular economy.
(Edited slightly for brevity only)
Why COVID-19 is unlike past crises:
“It feels like 1987 from a financial market standpoint. It feels like 9/11 in the way things shut down in the aerospace industry. It has some resemblance to 2008-09. But it’s different in scope and scale the fact that it’s a rolling epidemic moving around the world. That’s very different than anything we’ve seen in the past.”
- His views on when and how to reopen the economy:
“We have to get ourselves into the mindset of what is safe. And how to get back into the work sites in a way that is safe. We’re going to be working in an environment for at least the rest of this year, maybe into next year, where we don’t yet have a vaccine, we may not have a therapeutic response, but we can’t shut the economies down and put the world on hold for a year or 18 months while we develop that.
“We have to think about what are the precautions we can take and bring people back to work in a way that is safe: PPE (personal protective equipment), social distancing, asking a few questions about contact; sanitation; washing your hands. All these basic things that we can do to make it safe to go back to work. We have to think about how different industries will go back.”
“[Dow] is manufacturing around the world and in Asia and we’re relatively safe and can continue to operate. If I can do that, why can’t a construction site go back to work? Or why can’t an infrastructure project like a highway be built? All the political leaders have the right intent which is they want to minimize the impact to the public. But remember, the vast majority of people aren’t getting this disease and the impact of the economy on the 90 percent is going to overwhelm what’s happening with the virus.”
- Prospects for the automotive sector vs. mass transportation (air, rail, etc.):
“We need to get people back into [auto] dealerships. Dealerships are not a very concentrated place of people. But my guess is people are going to want to go back to driving before they’re going to want to go back to flying.
“We are seeing that data already in China – road traffic is 80 percent of where it was back in the beginning of January, but air travel and long trips and rail travel are only 40-50 percent of what they were. It’s going to take time for people to feel comfortable going back into that space.”
- How pandemic has changed sentiment toward plastics:
“We’ve seen a big change in sentiment. Probably the most dramatic are the grocery stores and retailers saying we don’t want reusable bags coming into the stores. We’d rather issue you a clean, new, sanitary disposable one-time bag.
“Safety, health, hygiene and security have come to the top of the list. I don’t believe that some of the issues that we face on plastics longer-term will go away. But I do think people are recognizing the value of plastics and chemicals and how they can be helpful in this fight.”
- Dealing with plastic waste:
“The biggest thing is we have an infrastructure problem. From an economics standpoint it’s cheaper today to make a virgin plastic material than it is to recycle anything and bring it back into the economy. That isn’t going to create a sustainable circular economy. You need an infrastructure in place that encourages products to be brought back and recycled.”
Watch the complete video at: www.ceraweek.com/conversations
Additional information: Jim Fitterling bio
About CERAWeek Conversations:
CERAWeek Conversations features original interviews and discussion with energy industry leaders, government officials and policymakers, leaders from the technology, financial and industrial communities – and energy technology innovators.
The series is produced by the team responsible for the world’s preeminent energy conference, CERAWeek by IHS Markit.
New installments will be added weekly at www.ceraweek.com/conversations.
Additional segments currently available include:
- Leadership Dialogue: Patrick Pouyanné – The chairman and chief executive of TOTAL interviewed by IHS Markit vice chairman Daniel Yergin.
- Why the Middle East Still Matters – featuring Suzanne Maloney, interim vice president and director of the foreign policy program, Brookings Institution, and Carlos Pascual, senior vice president, global energy, IHS Markit
- How COVID-19 Will Change Global Politics – featuring William Burns, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Carlos Pascual, senior vice president, global energy, IHS Markit.
- Russia, Oil and Geopolitics in the COVID-19 Era – featuring Angela Stent, director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University
Global Oil Markets in Turmoil – Featuring Dan Yergin, vice chairman, IHS Markit and Jim Burkhard, vice President, oil markets, IHS Markit. Moderated by Atul Arya, senior vice president, energy, IHS Markit.
About IHS Markit (www.ihsmarkit.com)
IHS Markit (NYSE: INFO) is a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions for the major industries and markets that drive economies worldwide. The company delivers next-generation information, analytics and solutions to customers in business, finance and government, improving their operational efficiency and providing deep insights that lead to well-informed, confident decisions. IHS Markit has more than 50,000 business and government customers, including 80 percent of the Fortune Global 500 and the world’s leading financial institutions. Headquartered in London, IHS Markit is committed to sustainable, profitable growth.
IHS Markit is a registered trademark of IHS Markit Ltd. and/or its affiliates. All other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners © 2020 IHS Markit Ltd. All rights reserved.
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