Dow’s Barbour Puts Accent on Change

A native of South Africa who went to boarding school in England and graduated from the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland, Ian Barbour brings a global perspective...

by Carlos David Mogollón, Managing Editor

“Barbour has kept a close eye on Dow’s U.S. business following the subprime mortgage fallout, but has only noticed softening recently. Specific markets such as mining, oil & gas, and refineries remain strong, driven by high commodity prices. ”

A native of South Africa who went to boarding school in England and graduated from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, Ian Barbour brings a global perspective to his current position as general manager of Dow Water Solutions, based in Edina, MN. But you wouldn’t know it by his accent, which is more 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 The Dow Chemical Company, 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 about 1,200 people and five manufacturing facilities worldwide.

As a 26-year Dow employee, Barbour has led completion of Filmtec’s new RO membrane manufacturing plant in Edina in 2006 (which it’s already outgrowing), 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 that 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 more closely followed Dow’s U.S. business during the subprime mortgage fallout, but has only noticed softening recently. Specific markets such as mining, oil & gas, and refineries remain strong, driven by high commodity prices.

“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.

Still, with oil around $130 a barrel, costs are being passed with price hikes industry-wide, for which Dow hasn’t been immune. Still, he said he was surprised inflation was so subdued. Click here to read "An Interview with Dow Water Solutions' Ian Barbour" in full in Q&A format.

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