Peter Holicki,  Senior Vice President at The Dow Chemical Company and winner of the 2018 Manufacturing Leader of the Year award, believes manufacturing should stand tall and be proud – about its vital role in industry, innovation, the environment, and society.

“In this fast-changing world, ethics will be come increasingly important. Integrity will be important. These are values that we cannot allow to be breached.”

Peter Holicki, Senior Vice President,
The Dow Chemical Company

In June this year, Senior Vice President Peter Holicki at The Dow Chemical Company won the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s most prestigious individual award – 2018 Manufacturing Leader of the Year.


Since joining the 121-year old Dow organization as an engineer in 1987 at its Stade plant in Germany, Holicki has since risen to one of the most powerful roles in global manufacturing and is now responsible for the company’s entire global production operations, manufacturing and engineering facilities, and environment, health and safety operations.

Along with a team of 28,000 people around the world, Holicki currently oversees 178 plants on five continents, producing 50 billion pounds of product every year, across 6,000 individual product lines, and involving around 4,000 different kinds of raw materials.

A passionate advocate of manufacturing, digital transformation, and inclusiveness, Holicki has also led the $6 billion expansion of Dow’s manufacturing base along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the formation of the $20 billion Sadara joint venture with Saudi Aramco, involving the world’s largest start-up of an integrated chemical complex totalling 26 plants, related infrastructure, and logistics terminals.

In our latest Dialogue with a manufacturing industry thought leader, Holicki talks with Manufacturing Leadership Executive Editor Paul Tate about the importance of digital transformation to today’s industry, its democratizing impact on corporate hierarchies, the increasing need for industry leaders to recognize the value of data, and why manufacturers around the world should be more vocal than ever about their role and contribution to the future of society.


Q: What excites you most about your current role at Dow?
As a company Dow provides the kinds of products and solutions that touch almost every aspect of people’s lives. I would say around ninety-five percent of everything we touch and interact with every day is enabled through some kind of chemistry. That can be the foods we eat, the packaging around it, all the stuff we have in our homes, the cars we drive, and that drive themselves. So, it’s very rewarding to be in an industry that impacts the physical world and the society we live in so extensively.

Then there are the people – both our customers and in the company. We have an amazing global team that takes tremendous pride in what they do for Dow, for our customers, and for the communities where we operate. They help bring new solutions to market, help customers to be successful, impress them with our quality and reliability, and exceed their expectations wherever they can. It is always a pleasure to work side-by-side with all those people.

Finally, I think the change we are seeing in manufacturing today is very exciting. For a while, there was not much going on in our industry, but now manufacturing really is transforming to the digital space. The pace of this technology advancement is very rapid and we all need to grasp it. This makes my role both exciting and rewarding.

Q: What challenges still keep you awake at night?
I think one thing that has always been with us at Dow is a relentless pursuit of safety and environmental stewardship. We can never let our guard down there. We owe it to our people. We owe it to the many contractors who work with us. We owe it to the communities in which we operate. And our customers expect us to operate safely, sustainably, and at the highest environmental standards.

The other aspect is reliability. In a fast-paced world where demands are changing all the time, you can’t let your customers down. You must be a reliable partner. If you are not reliable in your operations and in the way you serve the customer, you will not be profitable and ultimately, you will not exist anymore.

Something I also feel very strong about personally is inclusion. In today’s world, I think it’s very important that we work hard on inclusion across our global employee base. We have people all over the world from all kinds of different backgrounds, and they need to be able to work together with ease, in comfort and with trust. Our people are our strongest assets. We invest in them. We value them as individuals. They differentiate us in the marketplace. We need their contributions. And we want to make sure we hear them.

Q: How would you characterize the current state of global manufacturing?
Today’s industrial environment is very dynamic. It is part of a larger change in society on a global scale. There are record increases in computing capabilities that are allowing data-based computational modelling and the digitalization of work processes that used to be paper-based or experiential-based. So we have unprecedented abilities to use and analyse data that we didn’t have before. It’s also about connectivity between assets. It’s connectivity within the company, and between companies, and partners, and across the economy. It’s also about consumerism; it’s about organization; and it’s a drive towards more sustainability. This is all happening together.

I think what’s important is that we as a manufacturing industry understand the whole picture. We have to be more agile, more flexible. But we also have to make choices. There are so many solutions out there and we cannot deploy all of them. You have to be selective. Everybody has to make those choices one-by-one.


“As an industry and at Dow, we are entering unchartered territory. You have to do that with confidence, but also accept that not every step you make will be 100 percent right.”

Q: How is Dow pursuing this journey to Manufacturing 4.0?
We have a digital strategy within Dow that encompasses all aspects of the corporation. There is a lot of excitement and energy about it at all levels of the company, from the executive wing to the plant floor. People are ready and willing to get on board and embrace new digital tools and approaches.

We have also established a network of digital development centers covering operations, R&D, workforce development, supply chain, and commercial marketing including customer service. They are all collaborating with each other, which would not be possible without strong digital technology support. Both individually and together, these centers are now developing the different foundational technologies that will drive better fulfilment performance for the entire company in the future.

And the way they operate is also very different compared to the way we’ve traditionally worked in manufacturing. In the Houston digital development center, for example, we have people from highly diverse backgrounds, from IT to operations to academia and third-party providers, all exchanging ideas and working together in an open environment. This is very different from the way we have traditionally worked in manufacturing.

Q: How is the Dow Operations team supporting the digital transformation?
In Operations itself, we focus very much on analytics and data science to allow better, more data-based, higher-confidence decision-making. We also do a lot on robotics, which is very important to enhance safety, drive productivity, and reduce cost. We are also pushing the use of mobile technologies to allow our people to stay in the know, wherever they go. And we’re continuing to drive more process control and process automation capabilities so we can measure more effectively and prevent losses or waste-generation.

In fact, we create about 20 billion data points every day from all the plants we have around the world. And with computer power now more cost-effective and available, we can really start mining that huge data pool to gain insights that we were not able to do before.

All of this is based on a digital thread that reaches across the company, which makes the value of data and the accuracy of that data more and more central. So we have to take more care about the cleansing of data because everything involved – mobile technology, digitalization, analytics, robotics, process automation – is only valuable if you have reliable data that can be used anywhere around the world, where and when they need it.

Q: Does this create new vulnerabilities for manufacturing?
As you digitalize everything in your company and your operations, you also open yourself up to more cyber security concerns. And we know it’s not only IP preservation you have to think about, but also cyber attacks or cyber sabotage. With the digital age comes the cyber threat. It’s inevitable. Everybody in the industry has to be very conscious and vigilant about that.

“There are many reasons to be proud of being in manufacturing. It’s something we should pass onto everyone we touch.”

Q: Has this process of digital transformation also affected traditional working cultures at Dow?
I think digitalization will continue to break down organizational hierarchies in the years ahead. Data-based decisions can now be done at lower levels than ever before, anywhere in the world, so digitalization will have an increasingly democratizing effect on many corporate structures.

People are also increasingly working in project-based environments. They can now come together using modern digital tools that allow them to collaborate intently on projects in different continents and different places in real time. That is very different. In the past, we relied a lot on experiential-based decision-making. People with experience and seniority were expected to make the right call. But in the future, it will be more data-driven and in some cases, the automated systems will make the decisions themselves without the need of a human. Humans will be there to supervise or safeguard the process.

So I think we will need different kinds of talent in the future in manufacturing. People that are much more digitally aware. We are already re-educating our current workforce, creating apprentice programs with higher digital components, and working with university partners to make sure the education systems around the world are training this new workforce the future industry needs. Again, it goes back to inclusion and last year, for the first time in our 120-year history, we appointed a Chief Inclusion Officer to help create a more inclusive culture in our company that enables our transformation to the benefit of all the people we engage with.

Q: What impact will the merger with DuPont have on Dow’s manufacturing strategies? How important will digital technologies be in this transition?
This merger, by its magnitude and its complexity, is really unprecedented. Two of the largest companies in the chemical industry have come together and now aim to create three new companies out of the merger – one in agriculture, one in speciality products, and a third focused on material science, which will be the new Dow. The new Dow will separate by the end of the first quarter of 2019, and the other two companies by June 1. What I can tell you is that this coming together, and subsequent splitting up into three new independent companies, would not have been possible in the aggressive timeline we’ve set without strong digital foundations. It is a very complex operation, and the solid digital cultures on both sides are allowing it to be done effectively and at the speed that is required.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the manufacturing industry over the next few years?
Manufacturing companies cannot allow themselves to be paralyzed by the speed of change and the ever-changing demands of stakeholders, the communities in which we operate, or customers. That is the reality of the future.

As an industry and at Dow, we are entering unchartered territory. You have to do that with confidence, but also accept that not every step you make will be 100 percent right. We may fail here and there, so we have to be able to recover fast. And we have to set priorities, especially when it comes to digital solutions. If I decide on a digital solution today, I know there might be a better one tomorrow. But that cannot stop me from making a decision today. In due time, we will look again to see if there is enough progress and if it’s worthwhile to upgrade and scale. But if you are always waiting for the best deal, you will wait forever.

Innovation will also remain essential to success. The lifecycles of solutions that customers now demand are shortening all of the time. They want to have tailor-made solutions. They want to make sure what they get is not the same as what another customer gets. So, from a manufacturing standpoint, you must have strong resilience to change and remain nimble.

Q: What new skills will leaders need to succeed in this fast-changing, digitally-driven future?
Probably more than ever before, leaders of the digital age need to learn what’s going on across many different industries, not only within their own sectors and fields of expertise. In the Manufacturing 4.0 world, new ideas are being developed across many different industries and economies, whether it’s data analytics and software in the U.S., or robotics in Japan and Europe. So leaders will need an open mind and be willing to learn and listen.

Data savviness will be increasingly important. You have to embrace it. Leaders have to understand that data is the most important aspect of technology. It’s not just about process technology anymore. It’s not just the experience your people have anymore. It’s about how you value data and how you master data. And because data has a lot of value, you also have to think about IP in different ways.

Data is also breaking down traditional hierarchies. So I think there will be less command-and-control type of leaders necessary in the years ahead because people will work more in cross-functional project environments, rather than doing the same job for many years.

 “Probably more than ever before, tomorrow’s leaders will need to learn what’s going on across many different industries.”

And in this fast-changing world, ethics and integrity will become increasingly important. Whatever changes may happen, these are values that we cannot allow to be breached. We have to fight unconscious biases, build inclusive work environments, and create leaders who are confident their company is bringing an important contribution to society, and that it is doing it the right way. I personally think that safety and environmental stewardship concerns have to be at the very top of any decision we make.

Q: Finally, if you had to focus on one thing as a watchword or catchphrase for the future of manufacturing, what would that be and why?
A: The phrase I use is, “Standing Tall.” I think we in manufacturing have to stand up for what we do. We are delivering tremendous value to our customers, to our communities, and to our societies around the world. And we need to stand tall when it comes to ethics, when it comes to inclusion, when it comes to environment, health and safety, when it comes to productivity, reliability, or innovation. There are many reasons to be proud of being in manufacturing. It’s something we should pass onto everyone we meet.

Another aspect is what I call D&I. By that I mean “Digitalization & Inclusion.” I think those two elements will really drive and impact the future of Dow, and the future of manufacturing at large. We spoke a lot about digitalization, and how that touches every aspect of manufacturing. We’re also in a global marketplace that is moving very fast, where solutions are developed anywhere in the world. So we want to be able to work with people around the world. We want to work with people anytime of the day. And, we want to work effectively, even if we never met each other or are not meeting face-to-face.

Those are my watchwords for the future of manufacturing: standing tall, and digitalization and inclusion.   M

FACT FILE: Dow Chemical Company
(a subsidiary of DowDuPont Inc.)
– Location: Midland, Michigan, USA
– Business Sector: Packaging, Infrastructure and Consumer Care
– Revenues: $55.5 billion (2017 Pro Forma)
– People: 54,000 Employees
– Market Presence: approx. 35 countries
 -Production: 178 Manufacturing Sites Worldwide

– Title: Senior Vice President, Operations, Manufacturing & Engineering, Environment, Health and Safety Operations
– Nationality: German
– Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Fachhochschule Münster, Germany; MBA, University Bochum, Germany.
– Languages: German, English, Dutch
– Previous Roles Include:
-Corporate Vice President, Manufacturing & Engineering, Environment, Health and Safety Operations
Vice President, Operations, Europe, Middle East, & Africa
Global Manufacturing Vice President, Hydrocarbons & Plastics, and Vice President, Manufacturing & Engineering, Europe, Middle East & Africa
Site Leader, Terneuzen, Netherlands, and Vice President Manufacturing, Dow Benelux
Olefins Business Director, Europe, Middle East & Latin America
Production Leader, Aromatic Derivatives Complex, Terneuzen, Netherlands
Site Leader, King’s Lynn and Operations, UK
Manufacturing, EH&S and ES&S roles, Stade, Germany
– Other Industry Roles and Awards:
2018 Manufacturing Leader of the Year, Manufacturing Leadership Council
Member, Dow Executive Leadership Council
Corporate Sponsor, Dow Disability Employee Network
Corporate Sponsor, Dow VetNet Group
Corporate Sponsor, AIChE Safety Academies
Board Member, Sadara Chemical Company (a Dow-Saudi Aramco joint venture)
Chair, American Institute of Chemical Engineers Executive Leadership Forum
Board Member and Vice President, European PetroChemical Association (EPCA)
Board Member, Association of Petrochemical Producers in Europe (APPE)
Member, Energy and Climate Change Committee, VNO-NCW (Dutch Employers’ Federation)
Member, Dutch Chemical Association
Chairman, Employers Association, Kanaalzone Brabant and Zeeland, Netherlands
Board Member, Catalyst Group, European Region