Strong company culture and a focus on innovation keep Merichem at the forefront
A lot of changes take place over the course of 75 years. A short list of inventions from the past three quarters of a century that changed modern life includes the integrated circuit, the microwave oven, fiber optics, and the internet. Businesses such as Merichem that have survived that long need to constantly be looking to improve and innovate — something of which CEO Kendra Lee is well aware.
After finishing her undergrad work, Lee came to the chemical company her grandfather founded to work as a technician in the research lab. Realizing lab work wasn’t for her, she moved into sales and pursued her MBA as her interest in business grew. When leadership of the company changed after her grandfather’s passing, she moved into the company’s treasury department and began a career in corporate finance.
In 2014, Lee became CEO of Merichem. Her 23-year career at the company provides an example of the culture at the company in which people can find their best fit based on their individual skillset and are promoted from within.
Similarly, Lee’s career mirrors the growth and changes her company has undergone over its existence. While its broad focus has been serving the oil and gas industry since the mid-20th century, Merichem evolved into more of a provider of technology in 1997 when it put its largest chemical business into a joint venture with Sasol. In 2012, Sasol took over the chemical company, leaving Merichem room to focus on its two main businesses, Merichem Process Technology and Merichem Caustic Services.
Merichem Process Technology and Merichem Caustic Services
Both divisions offer customers proven and sustainable solutions for removing sulfur from crude oil fractions and natural gas.
Merichem Process Technology engineers, designs, and fabricates proprietary and non-proprietary equipment for sulfur removal. The company also manufactures catalysts that removes hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and converts it into elemental sulfur.
The company’s FIBER FILM® technology is able to treat jet fuel, diesel fuel, and even gasoline to create fuel that burns more cleanly. Doing so allows refineries to meet environmental standards while maintaining lower emission profiles.
Lee explains, “We have two different types of technology. We have a liquid treating technology which is our FIBER FILM® technology, a liquid-to-liquid extraction that removes the sulfur impurities and results in a cleaner hydrocarbon for refining into various fuels.
“Our other suite of technologies is our LO-CAT® technology, and it’s really doing a similar thing in that it’s removing sulfur, but from natural gas. Anywhere hydrogen sulfide is an issue, we have a process technology unit that can be designed to remove it. So there’s a cleaner product to meet regulatory and safety standards.”
Merichem Caustic Services works with refineries and petrochemical companies by managing produced spent caustic through an extensive logistics network. Spent caustic is normally a waste product for refineries but Merichem is able to repurpose the spent caustic into multiple beneficial reuse applications, including as a make-up chemical for the pulp and paper industry. Using sulfidic caustic rather than virgin caustic is both more ecofriendly and more affordable for clients. Beneficially reusing the sulfidic caustic has the added advantage for refineries of allowing them to more easily and safely dispose of the waste as it is no longer designated as hazardous waste by the EPA.
The added advantage for beneficial reuse is that refineries and petrochemical facilities may exempt spent caustics as a solid hazardous waste under EPA guidelines. Therefore, spent caustic is a non-waste offering simple and cost-effective supply chain options for managing their production and inventory.
Merichem may be based out of its 15-acre Houston headquarters, but it has sales agents around the world, an entity in Shanghai, China, and a facility in Tuscaloosa, AL. Having such widespread interests requires a company culture that embraces collaboration — an area in which Merichem excels.
The company’s in-house software used for proprietary equipment design is an example of its efforts to foster teamwork. When previous software became so antiquated that only a small handful of employees could use it anymore, Merichem realized it could use its own bright and talented group of engineers to develop a solution. The resulting transition to a new system allowed for a broader cross-section of employees to use it to support customers and one another.
Lee appreciates the growth enabled by the newer software, noting, “Now (sales and engineering teams) can get better data and better pricing to customers early on and allow them to design the equipment and narrow in on a design that will meet the customer’s needs without over-design and costing the customer more than they need to spend.”
Collaboration with clients is another key to Merichem’s success. The sales process is rarely trying to sell a simple solution off the shelf. Rather, it involves sales working together with a client to get an understanding of their specific needs. When an understanding is reached, a design is carefully developed and the engineers get involved.
“We work with customers early on to recognize what it is they’re treating and what their impurity profile looks like and what they’re trying to remove. Then we design it to meet their requirements.”
Lee continues, “Once a unit is up and running, Merichem continues to provide technical support to our customers. If you have a question about how our unit is running or you think it’s not running as well or meeting the standards you want, you can pick up the phone and actually get ahold of our technical service engineers.” The engineers are then able to help troubleshoot inefficiencies.
Merichem also maintains a research center, the Files Technical Center, where they can run experiments and get the equipment running at optimal levels.
Working with hazardous chemicals brings a certain degree of risk, but with Lee as CEO the company has developed a focus on workplace safety. Merichem has a culture of open communication which contributes to its impressive safety record that has garnered awards including: the Beyond Zero Significant Milestone for safety at its manufacturing shop in Houston, the Chemical Transportation Safety Pinnacle Award from Union Pacific for its railcar fleet, and the Alabama Manufacture’s First Place in Safety award seven of the last nine years for its manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa.
Lee emphasizes, “At the end of the day, what we care about most is that our employees go home the exact same way they came to work that day — whether it’s going to a manufacturing job, whether it’s going to the laboratory, or to the plant, or even just the office.”
Caring about employees goes beyond looking out for their safety. Lee hosts a quarterly town hall where employees are invited to share anything on their mind and ask questions which she answers honestly. Being open and transparent establishes trust among employees and creates an atmosphere in which they can enjoy their jobs and look forward to coming to work.
The importance of happy employees is not lost on Lee, “At the end of the day, if it wasn’t for the employees, there wouldn’t be a Merichem. It doesn’t matter what technology we offer. It doesn’t matter how much caustic we take for beneficial reuse. If we don’t have our employees coming in every day and being passionate about the work they do, the company would never make a dime.”
The Next 75 Years
Just as it has been in the last 75 years, the goals of Merichem will be growth and innovation. It’s certainly hard to peer that far into the future but it seems likely that, based on past experience, the company will be just as successful in evolving and adapting to the changing times as it has been since its inception.
Looking forward, Lee concludes, “Merichem has a 75-year history, but we’re very innovative. We strive for continual evolution and how to continue to provide for our customers.” With an attitude like that, there should be no shortage of customers heading Merichem’s way.
Merichem Company (“Merichem”) is a global partner serving the oil and gas industries with focused technology, chemical, and service solutions. Merichem provides the Oil and Gas industry with critical proprietary impurity removal processes to increase the quality of Refinery Products and Gas streams. Merichem beneficially reuses spent caustics and other byproducts produced by oil refining and petrochemical plants around the globe. It is also one of the leading suppliers of naphthenic acid and its derivatives in the world. Merichem Process Technologies has been providing key proprietary refinery product improvement technologies, many based on the FIBER-FILM® technology for over 35 years. It also provides proprietary solutions for the removal of H2S and other impurities from a wide range of gas applications. Merichem Caustic Services provides beneficial reuse options for refinery caustics including the production of naphthenic acids. Merichem Company has been involved with refinery caustics for almost all of its history.