Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings has named Jean-Marc Gilson, a Belgian-born chemical executive, as its CEO effective April 1, 2021. He will replace Hitoshi Ochi, who plans to retire.
Currently CEO of Roquette, a French food and drug ingredients company, Gilson previously held executive positions at Dow Corning and Avantor Performance Materials. He worked for five years in Japan for Dow Corning.
Gilson will be the first foreign-born CEO of Japan’s largest chemical company and a relative rarity as a non-Japanese CEO in Japan. In announcing the move, Mitsubishi cited his success in implementing growth strategies and portfolio transformation in both specialty chemicals and life sciences.
Gilson’s appointment comes as other Japanese chemical firms act to diversify their boards and management. JSR, for example, elevated the American executive Eric Johnson to CEO in 2018.
In an Oct. 23 video press conference, Gilson declined to specify changes he would make to the company’s diversified portfolio. However he cited DSM as a model for portfolio transformation, noting that the Dutch firm, a major competitor of plant-based ingredients company Roquette, has shifted from chemicals to food, nutrition, and health products over the past 10 years.
“I am not talking about abandoning the chemical industry,” Gilson assured reporters, “but adjusting our portfolio to make sure we have high-value products.”
Quizzed about taking the helm of a Japanese company as a foreign national, Gilson cited his 5 years in Japan with Dow Corning, adding that his wife is Japanese. “I understand it is a big challenge not being Japanese, but I have always been in companies in which I am not a national,” he said. “For me, Japan is not new. I have some understanding of Japanese culture.”
In an email to C&EN, Yoshihiro Azuma, a Japan-based analyst with the investment firm Jefferies, notes that some of Mitsubishi’s methyl methacrylate operations in the US and Japan are targets for shutdowns and write offs. The investment firm notes that Mitsubishi operates old and inefficient olefin and olefin derivative assets in Japan.
Azuma points to risks if the company strays too far from chemicals in developing a life science portfolio. “We do not think running both a pharmaceutical and a petrochemical business is desirable, because the nature of the businesses (risk, time horizon, marketing style, capital intensity) is so different,” he writes.
The company has had a difficult year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Income for its April-June quarter plummeting 86%, to about $50 million, compared to the same quarter in 2019.