This past December, LyondellBasell and Sasol announced the close of the Louisiana-based Integrated PolyEthylene Joint Venture (JV) LLC. Upon signing the 50/50 JV agreement, LyondellBasell took over as the site’s sole operator and needed to appoint a new site manager. The company’s leadership didn’t have to look far to find the right man for the job. Anthony “Tony” Wood began serving as site manager on Dec. 1, 2020.
Taking over as the JV’s new site manager would be a challenge in any year, but within months of entering his new position, Wood also had to face the additional challenges posed by COVID-19, as well as the decline in oil prices that followed. Despite these obstacles, Wood stayed the course and kept the JV on track, a great accomplishment for any site manager, much less one who had been on the job for only a few months.
According to Wood, his primary responsibility is overseeing safe and efficient manufacturing at the JV, located near Westlake, Louisiana.
“In order to ensure our success, it is paramount to ensure our team members are properly trained to perform their jobs,” he said. “We strive to consistently deliver high-quality products to our customers while being a responsible, good neighbor in the communities in which we operate.”
Wood could be considered to be a homegrown talent of LyondellBasell. He began his career at the company right out of high school, starting off as a part-time security officer at the Lake Charles Polypropylene Plant. All told, he would spend 24 years at that Lake Charles site, beginning his long upward trajectory at the company while still a teenager. Wood studied chemical engineering at McNeese State University, eventually moving on from his initial position as a security officer to process operator, shift supervisor and unit supervisor. After graduation, he rose to the roles of process engineer and maintenance and reliability manager. In October 2013, Wood relocated to Houston to serve in multiple management positions at LyondellBasell’s sites in Alvin, Bayport, Matagorda and Pasadena, Texas.
In LyondellBasell, Sasol found an attractive partner. As one of the leading plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world, LyondellBasell is the world’s largest producer of polymer compounds and the largest licensor of polyolefin technologies. The 50/50 shareholder companies recognized that bringing LyondellBasell’s experience to the JV’s operations would be a win for both parties. Wood’s experience would lend itself to the initial goals of reducing costs and optimizing the operational efficiency of the site.
With the agreement, LyondellBasell acquired half ownership of the JV’s 1.5-million- ton ethane cracker, the 0.9-million-ton low-density and linear-low-density polyethylene plants, and associated infrastructure for total considerations of $2 billion. While LyondellBasell took over as the site’s operator, it will toll manufacture products on behalf of both shareholders, as well as market the site’s products on behalf of both parties.
The JV imports ethane via pipeline to produce ethylene and other co-products. That ethylene is consumed in downstream units to make polyethylene, and the balance of ethylene is exported via pipeline. “Most of the JV’s clients are polyethylene customers who use our products to make films for various consumer packaging,” Wood explained.
New site, new challenges
Part of the JV agreement entailed transitioning approximately 400 of the site’s existing Sasol employees to LyondellBasell, retaining critical institutional knowledge of the site and aiding in the transition of operations to its new operator with minimal delays and downtime. Transitioning those 400 employees, Wood said, has been the greatest challenge he’s faced at the JV to date — an even greater challenge than the impositions placed on the site by the pandemic.
“The timing for full integration will be one to two years,” he said. “Additionally, as we continue to navigate the integration of the employees and systems, we have worked to manage a safe operating environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. We strive each and every day to ensure the safety of our employees and their families.”
But the JV could not fully operate using only the employees who’ve transitioned to LyondellBasell from Sasol, Wood pointed out.
“The site has recently gone through an extensive hiring process and we are thrilled to have new team members join our Lake Charles operation,” Wood said. “We are focused on building a winning team, driving continuous improvement along with safe and reliable operations.”
Wood noted that the safety and well-being of the JV’s employees remain top priorities. So far, he said, there have been zero injuries, zero environmental incidents and zero process safety incidents at the site. He attributed this exemplary safety record to LyondellBasell’s company culture as an industry leader in health, safety and environmental performance, as well as adherence to its internal operational excellence standards.
In addition to maintaining a stellar safety record, Wood pointed out that LyondellBasell is also committed to being a responsible, good neighbor in the communities where it operates. Through its global citizenship program, Advancing Good, the company invests in charitable organizations that support three key focus areas: Advancing Our Communities, Advancing Our Planet and Preparing Tomorrow’s Workforce. But Wood is also quick to point out that the JV applies this global initiative to being a “responsible neighbor” at the local level as well.
Every year, LyondellBasell holds its Global Care Day, where the company’s operating facilities and office personnel perform charitable work to benefit each site’s surrounding community.
“Global Care Day is LyondellBasell’s worldwide day of service where employees, contractors, friends and families come together to make a positive impact to advance good locally and globally,” Wood said.
However, the company doesn’t limit its charitable outreach to a single day. LyondellBasell is also involved in various community outreach programs throughout the year.
“Our plant and our employees support several local community organizations by volunteering time and providing financial contributions/donations,” Wood said.
In addition to its many charitable endeavors, Wood also described how the JV’s everyday operations are a part of LyondellBasell’s commitment to community.
“Sustainability is a key focus for us and our industry,” he said. “For LyondellBasell, sustainability means advancing solutions to address global challenges while meeting our stakeholders’ needs and the highest operational standards. Our commitment to society and the environment is embedded in our company vision to be the best-operated and most-valued company in our industry — today and tomorrow.”
Maintaining a community presence through direct engagement and sustainable practices are skills Wood thinks are critically important to his role as the JV site manager.
“Building strong relationships with employees, contractors, customers, suppliers, peers and community leaders helps establish trust,” he said. “It starts with active leadership, quality decision making, effective communication and being a strong community advocate.”
As LyondellBasell’s home-grown choice to lead its new operation, with his extensive history of existing relationships in the Lake Charles area, Wood was the natural fit for growing and developing those relationships for the JV.
Louisiana Integrated PolyEthylene JV 2201 Old Spanish Trail Westlake, Louisiana 70669 www.lyondellbasell.com
Employees: Approximately 400 employees and additional contractor support
Size: 409 acres