Dow’s Barbour Puts Accent on Change

Dow Water Solutions chief weighs in on the global business climate, energy efficiency, membranes and desalination.

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Th 290198
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Dow Water Solutions chief weighs in on the global business climate, energy efficiency, membranes and desalination.

A South African native who attended boarding school in England and graduated from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, Ian Barbour brings a global perspective to his position as general manager of Dow Water Solutions, based in Edina, MN. But you wouldn’t know by his accent, which is a nondescript, urban American one.

“Put me in Scotland for six months, I’ll be talking as if I’m a Scot. If you put me in France, I’ll talk like I’m a Frenchman. And I don’t do it on purpose,” acknowledges Barbour, who’s lived in the United States since 1980 and became a citizen in 1988.

To hear him tell it, he’s got the best job at Dow Chemical, where he has worked since 1982 in sales, marketing, supply chain and management positions. He took over its Dow Liquid Separations business – which includes Dowex ion exchange resins, Filmtec reverse osmosis (RO) membranes and Adsorbia arsenic removal media – in July 2000. Responsible for Dow’s global water strategy, he oversees 1,200 people and five manufacturing facilities worldwide.

As a 26-year Dow employee, Barbour led completion of Filmtec’s new RO membrane manufacturing plant in Edina in 2006 (which it’s already outgrown), acquisition of OMEX Environmental Engineering, of Huzhou, Zhejiang, China, in July 2006 (which added UF, MBR and EDI to its portfolio) and the launch of Dow Water Solutions which melded the Liquid Separations business with OMEX in September 2006. Exclusively an OEM components supplier outside of China, Dow also gained systems and engineering capabilities inside China with OMEX, now deployed for R&D efforts to develop its MBR technologies for global marketing as components only, Barbour stressed.

“We recognize those products are not yet ready for prime time and we’ve got a fundamental development effort going on in the submerged membrane/membrane bioreactor space before you’ll see products from us outside of China,” he said. “Quite frankly, though, we see growth everywhere.”

Barbour has closely watched Dow’s U.S. business after the subprime mortgage fallout, but only noticed softening recently. Specific markets such as mining, oil & gas, and refineries remain strong, driven by high commodity prices globally.

“We are obviously concerned about the financial and credit crisis here and are keeping a close eye on how that may impact demand for our products. We haven’t seen anything too alarming. There’s plenty of business out there,” he said.

High oil prices make viable more mature wells yet also force up costs for raw materials as well as resin regeneration and membrane cleaning chemicals. A recent spike in caustic prices, for instance, means membrane system operators are apt to stretch them further until replacement is required. And, with oil above $130 a barrel, costs are passed on with price hikes industry-wide, for which Dow hasn’t been immune. Still, Barbour was surprised inflation wasn’t higher. Click here to read "An Interview with Dow Water Solutions' Ian Barbour" in full in Q&A format.

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