Tuesday, January 5, 2016

DelawareOnline: 1 in 4 DuPont jobs in Delaware to be cut; DuPont management responds in C&EN

From the inbox, a story from DelawareOnline's coverage of the DuPont layoffs today (warning, annoying autoplay) (article by Jeff Mordock and Scott Goss):
...Ron Ozer, an engineer at the DuPont Experimental Station near Alapocas, lost his job Monday after nearly 25 years with the company. He described the atmosphere among DuPont workers as "depressing." 
All employees at the Experimental Station had a one-on-one meeting with their supervisor to learn whether or not they will remain with the company, according to Ozer, an Arden resident. The meetings were said to have begun in the morning and continued through late afternoon. 
The people who are staying aren't exactly happy, either," Ozer said. "It's not like people came out of those meetings and said, 'Yeah, I've got a job.' They are coming back to a very different organization." 
Ozer said workers were not informed how many jobs were cut Monday. Despite the company's recently announced plans to cut more than 1 out of every 4 jobs in Delaware, Ozer said he was still caught off-guard. 
"I can't help but say I was a bit surprised," the investigative researcher said. "I guess I thought I was safer than I was." 
Some DuPont workers who received layoff notices are expected to remain with the company through the end of next month....
Man, that is terrible. Best wishes to them, and here's hoping that all of them find employment soon.

Also, a not-very-believable non-denial denial explanation of DuPont R&D massive layoffs reorganization from its chief science & technology officer, Doug Muzyka (article in C&EN by Alex Tullo):
...Muzyka claims recent media reports have “mischaracterized” the changes at DuPont by maintaining that “corporately funded R&D is being completely eliminated, or that the cost reduction effort at DuPont is targeting R&D.” 
As part of the R&D restructuring, he says, “we are redesigning the existing Central Research & Development operating model to assess and seed new, transformational science-based ventures as the next step in the evolution of corporately funded R&D for DuPont.” He adds that some staff from Central R&D and engineering will transfer to DuPont’s business units. 
Muzyka also says the R&D budget impact associated with the cost reduction program is in line with the overall program, which aims to cut the firm’s global workforce by 10%. “DuPont will continue to be a leading investor in industrial research and development,” he says. 
The changes, Muzyka adds, will position the company for its merger with Dow and the subsequent breakup of the new DowDuPont into three separate companies. 
“DuPont remains fundamentally, deeply committed to scientific innovation,” Muzyka says. The cuts are the result of “careful analysis of how we can improve the overall productivity of our R&D functional company-wide.”
I wish these executives showed a hint of humanity in their corporate-speak. I wonder when it leaves them? Or did they ever have it? 


  1. Muzyka has no credibility with the R&D staff. His communications, whether by email or the periodic 'town halls", leave the rank and file completely befuddled and/or incredulous. He, for one, is incapable of speaking in anything other than corporate-speak aka bullshit bingo. Nobody left here believes that the remnants of CR&D (cut by ca. 80% yesterday, apparently similar cuts occurred in corporate analytical and corporate engineering) will conduct anything remotely resembling "new, transformational science" or "science innovation". The next 3+ years here are not going to be pleasant. The merge has to be completed (0.5-1 year) and then the combined company will be split into three new companies (another 1.5-2 years). There will be more layoffs and lots of turmoil (Dupont and probably Dow too) during that time. Once the three new companies emerge they will go through their own growing pains. If Chemours can be used as a model then even more layoffs can be expected once the new companies are born. Who the hell is going to invest in long term/innovative/transformational (one of Muzyka's favorite words) in that kind of environment? Muzyka, who came into the job of CSTO with ZERO prior experience in R&D (other than his time in grad school) has no track record of delivering anything remotely resembling the BS he spews.

    (Disclosure - I'm a CR&D PI, layed off yesterday)

  2. Communication to employees has been absolutely dismal. Probably a sign that executives are hustling to move all this along. And Breen is a ghost throughout all this, just throwing bombs and running away. The science will suffer over the next 3 years, assuredly. Rumor was that the Haskell Lab for Tox & Industrial Medicine located at Stine-Haskell in Newark, DE was practically shuttered yesterday. It seems a few of those affected could be taken in by the other businesses that have a need for tox research. But they'll probably only need a few PI's to be 'Liasons' to manage out-sourced tox testing.

  3. I'm not even sure Dupont was doing a lot of "new, transformational science" anyways. My postdoc boss left in the early 90s because he wanted to focus on what interested him, and now he developed lots of industrially relevant reactions while in academia. We always had guests from BASF or Dow coming by the lab at the tail end of my postdoc. Also I read papers by Grushin back in the day while he was at Dupont, and he apparently left because the pressure to do something that will lead to a patent and money soon was too great. And I've been hearing of Dupont research going downhill for the last two decades because academic-like, long-term or curiosity projects got steadily more and more discouraged.

    Which might be all okay for a company who wants returns soon, but the weird thing is that on the other thread someone who also worked at Dupont research wrote that the research division now closely works with customers to tweak a process or make a product slightly different when the customer wants something specific or reports a problem in a polymer. Not much transformational there, but I imagine that the quality of the business would seriously suffer if you lay off people dealing directly with making current customers happy. Probably not right away, but they would probably switch over to other companies like Dow... oh wait a minute. I see what they did there. Can the Dow chemists handle the increased workload though? They probably will need to hire some out of work folks for a fraction of their previous salary or something.

  4. The current CEO of Dupont Mr. Edward D. Breen is no chemist and understand the chemistry. He was a hack in Tyco International and in that respect was similar to Chainsaw Dunlap when it comes to creating jobs. It should be now clear to all why Dupont went the way it went after he became CEO in 2015 and why people will cease to have job in Dupont! People like Breen, Fred Hassan, Dunlap, Welch they all are same. Loved by investors and loathed by "blue" collars! If someone can provide with information on how many peoples livelihoods are destroyed by these demons of of Wall street!

  5. What he meant to say was

    “DuPont remains fundamentally, deeply committed to scientific innovation, but not such much that we want to pay as much for it” Muzyka says.

    It is really a shame these companies can't just come out and tell the truth, which is "we let our organization get too big and bloated, so now we're going to hack away at it and fire a bunch of people". To be clear, I did do well in euphemism class in MBA school.

    I do agree it makes sense for companies to "improve the overall productivity of our R&D functional company-wide”, but I'm very much curious what metric they use: to me this seems very difficult to quantify (as DD's MBA's no doubt think they can). I assume whatever looks prettiest in the pie charts provided to management and the BOD?

    1. To be fair, quantifying the value of R&D is very, very difficult. The people who should be most motivated to do it are those in R&D, who typically resist making overly optimistic projections (whereas that seems to be a defining characteristic of MBA-types). It's a double whammy.

  6. 1) The cuts are the result of “careful analysis of how we can improve the overall productivity of our R&D functional company-wide.”

    Really? Most of the recent R+D cuts seem to be determined by who makes the most money (so we don't have to pay them anymore), what are the hot places to do R+D (or where the schools are to act as cheaper temporary R+D sources), etc. If they could have evaluated their R+D well enough to know what to cut while doing what they claim, why hadn't they done it already? (If they could have evaluated their R+D output well enough to know what could be cut without hurting them, they probably should be running R+D for other companies.) Most R+D cuts seem to resemble "Like A Surgeon" more than actual (nonlethal) medical procedures.

    I guess his statement is better than telling the truth to employees (at least for him): "Our stockholders want their money now, and don't care how we do it. You are expendable and cheap to purge, so out you go. We aren't really worried about what we will be selling in the future. Our plan for long-term survival involves finding aliens who want to generate saleable products for us for free, a government that interprets antitrust law flexibly, and customers who are susceptible to mind-control devices or willing to undergo lobotomies."

    2) I think as long as you hang out enough with like-minded people and don't talk to any employees below director level, it's easy to write stuff like that. Nothing like you're doing will ever happen to you (because even if you're laid off, the layoffs will always be cushioned by large severances and bonuses, and there will always be someone looking for people to work the reality distortion field), and employees and products are things to be used and discarded as things (as people mostly do to other people they don't know whose interests conflict with theirs).

    1. "Our plan for long-term survival involves finding aliens who want to generate saleable products for us for free, a government that interprets antitrust law flexibly, and customers who are susceptible to mind-control devices or willing to undergo lobotomies"

      Exactly! The MBAs running Dupont (and other places) want the company to "succeed" like Apple (always one of their favorite case study examples). Dupont doesn't mass manufacture devices (smartphones) that can be sold at very high margins to a population of (mind-controlled) customers who will throw said device into the trash to get the next latest greates version 9 months later. Selling chemicals, plastics, materials, and seeds to technically savvy customers just seems to be beyond their ability to manage.

  7. The Delaware Chainsaw Massacre is in progress.

  8. This just in: http://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/2016/01/05/dupont-lays-off-200-experimental-station-reseachers/78307982/

    And it isn't over. Next week the biochemistry & engineering division at the Experimental Station learns their fate.

  9. RE: "I wish these executives showed a hint of humanity in their corporate-speak. I wonder when it leaves them? Or did they ever have it?"

    It leaves them just after the "Group Supervisor" level (one in charge of 2-3 or more PIs). I saw the same thing at other workplaces.

    In the Navy we (Junior Officers) used to say that new Lieutenant Commanders (LCDR, O-4) came with a fresh lobotomy when they received their extra half-stripe on the shoulder boards.

    So, yeah - Anything supervising 2-3 or more "supervisors" expect that they have drunk deeply from the Kool-Aid.

    1. Harry - Dupont has reached the stage where you must drink deeply from the Kool-Aid before you get to supervise more than a technician or you'll never get the Group Manager job. It was easy to do - they recruit the slick conformist Kool-Aid guzzlers right out of school, if you are not a conformist you don't get hired. Within just a few months on the job they are talking the talk. A few individualists slip in now and then, but then they resign within a few years.

    2. @Anon 7:32PM - Worse than I thought. Bleh.

  10. In the 1980s I worked at the Experimental Station as a research scientist in a couple of the operating departments. I was never a fan of CR&D as they drained away critical research dollars from us trying to create new products. They did inefficient, expensive basic research which I never considered mission critical for the company. I was especially taken back when they spent millions to wrap the CR&D building with a brick cover so that the darlings in CR&D would get offices that the lesser scientists in the operating divisions did not need. Had I been in charge back then, I would have dismantled CR&D and redirected those research dollars to the various operating department research groups to better help them compete with other similar companies around the world. I believed that with the post-war rise in strong basic research universities in the US and elsewhere, so-so basic research in an industrial setting -CR&Ds- had become an anachronism, something from a by-gone era and unnecessary going into the future.

    However CR&D was the least of DuPont's issues. No, it was the endless worthless meetings of all sorts, the unbelievable multilayered bureaucracy with its vast number of petty bureaucrats plaguing scientists on a daily basis, rules - the needless rules; the initiative-stifling rules - that I thought would no doubt drive this once great company into the ground. It was at DuPont where I would hear the term "prudent research risk" which seemed to be an oxymoron of the highest order but captured the reality of the risk adverse managers who would never think different. DuPont was a very polite organization, and no one was ever to challenge anything especially management and the DuPont culture. They could be very accepting of new stuff, once others had done so successfully. When given the choice to take DuPont stock or Conoco stock, I took oil and never looked back. I knew DuPont was rapidly becoming an also-ran because of the non-entrepreneurial culture and left at the first possible chance. I told my manager upon my departure that I saw no long-term future at DuPont. However I was off by a decade and a half, except for their pharma adventure.

    Management communication was never a company strength. One scientist from my era would always start his questions to management during BS communication meeting with "I don't understand, are you saying ...." the audience would initially shift in their seats as the question materialized and then snicker because everyone had become experts in DuPont Orwellian doublespeak. The funniest surreal stuff would come from corporate, it was like trying to guess what machinations were happening behind the Kremlin walls.

    However during my tenure at DuPont, there were still small signs of it greatness. I arrived just after the impulse purchase of Conoco and their strong long-term commitment to that high value chemical business called pharmaceuticals. DuPont needed mo cash even though it was then among the top 15 US corporations. Although all our salaries were frozen, DuPont still needed to shed several thousand employees, the company offered a very generous buy-out and a super generous early retirement package to volunteers. This was a terrific inducement to leave, so good in fact, that far more people jumped than anticipated. Unfortunately that would not be the wave of the future, with each subsequent downsizing, things have gotten grimmer and grimmer for the cast-off employees.

    It is unfortunate that such a storied corporation will soon exit the stage, but this downward spiral started decades ago and is the natural outcome for a company clinging to the past while letting time pass it by. As always in such cases the working folks, especially the local working-class families with long ties to DuPont, will be the ones to pay the price for decades mismanagement and living off past glories.

    1. Anonymous - I will quibble with you on one thing - the building wrap you refer to was done to several buildings on site, not just the "CR&D" building (I assume you mean E328). I interviewed at CR&D before the wrap, was offered a job, and turned it down largely because the labs were so antiquated. They paled in comparison to the labs and offices at other chemical companies and especially oil companies. Even with the wrap the infrastructure there was obsolete even at the time of the wrap.

    2. Anonymous 7:51 again - I should also have mentioned that I did eventually join CR&D in the 90s. Was in a lab/office in E328. I was crammed in a 1/2 lab with a single 15 foot hood, glove box, and 20 foot bench, one aisle. It was me and four technicians stuffed in there. We had three desks between the five of us, two in my office with three chairs, and one in the lab. The desks, and especially the one in the lab, were pre-personal computer and only had enough room for a CRT monitor. You had to hold your notebook in your lap to write, there was no room on the desk. It was awful but I had a goddam thrilling time doing research. There's plenty of empty space in E328 today, but the work there sucks.

  11. I agree whole-heartedly with the Ex-DuPonter above, who has eloquently described the decline of DuPont over the decades, just as I experienced it when I was there. The endless meetings, questionable ‘quality programs’, risk-adverse behavior, favoritism, byzantine promotion policies, etc. – they’ve all played their roles in the decline. And with the corporate culture at the company so strong, it was virtually impossible to go against this tide.
    We used to say in the division I was in – the best part about working for DuPont was your coworkers, who were nearly all smart and hard-working, and with whom you could do good R & D work that really made a difference. The worst part of working at DuPont was the management – there was almost no end to the disregard that they held for the R & D folks. It was so bad that one of the older lab technicians once told me that he felt sorry for us chemists, because no one stood up for us, especially our supervisors. At least the technicians had their union.
    Back in the 1990s I worked with a chemist who emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. She once told me, with some irony, that DuPont was hardly different from the Communist Workers Paradise, down to the group think, disdain for anyone who ‘thought differently’, the way HR and management kept tabs on ‘troublemakers’, using the intelligence they gathered to discipline people, or even get rid of them. There were even management favorites who were little better than informants. The only thing missing was the Gulag and Siberia.

  12. I did a 5 year stint in industry as an associate chemist before grad school in Chem. Eng., and its just sad to see a great company like this go down in flames. But this is what it has come to when B-school "geniuses" who want to "change the world" do when they get their hands on a company. Regardless if its Big Pharma, consumer goods, etc., friends I am sorry to say, our field is on life support in this country and it ain't getting no better. My has nephew is majoring in biochemistry, and asked me for career advice, I told him, "get really good grades, go to Pharmacy school, and be content pushing pills at Walgreens".

  13. Despite all this talk of DuPont declining slowly for the last two decades, I still don't see how a 3.5 billion dollar profit last year is a 'fail'. Which for me, makes this even more infuriating. What, profit is bad news if it's less profit than before? They increased their profit 20% in 2014.

    Sure, basic research has been dying, but a successful business is firing people who made it a huge profit. I will never think that a job with a Polymers, Materials or Organometallics degree is safe in the US again, if a company that runs a huge profit like that can get away with this shit. Adds more points to the "never want to come back to the States" box. The "get a good job close to your family in the home region when the opportunity comes up" box hasn't been getting many points lately. Maybe some former Dupont people can get lucky with a consulting job at a Chinese firm that wants to do some espionage. Disclosure and non-competing severance agreements in this case might be legally, but are not morally binding.

    1. Profits and profit margins have not mattered for a couple of decades, at least not in the chemical industry. Revenue growth is what matters and is what drives everything. If you sell $30MMM this year you better sell $32MMM next year, $34MMM the year after that, etc. For years Dupont management, and especially Ellen Kuhlman, made outlandish promises to Wall Street re. revenue growth. Most recently, in early 2015 Kuhlman and corporate management claimed that the company was going to increase revenue 50% by 2020. That works out to 7-8% per year for 5 straight years. Dupont has not done that for decades, probably much longer. For the last 25 years Dupont has failed to grow through real organic growth (new products) as opposed to acquisitions and spin offs to cover it up. Revenues during these last 25 years have averaged about $35+/-5MMM per year and is amazingly flat. However, factor in inflation and it is obvious that revenues have been on a steady negative growth trajectory for a very long time. For example, Dupont revenues in the early 90s were around $40MMM/yr. Factor in modest inflation and that is over $70MMM in today's dollars. I think Dupont 2015 revenues are going to be in the $25-30MMM range.

      As much as I want - and do - blame Wall Street for this I blame Dupont management more. They promised and promised and promised to Wall Street and claimed to employees that the latest greatest project/business management bureaucratic nightmare they were going to inflict on us would "double revenues in 10 years". They were either totally ignorant, delusional, liars, or some combination of the three.

    2. That's the problem with society in western culture: success is defined by whether you grow or not, rather than sustainability. In light of the fact that the planet has limited resources this seems to be short-sighted.

      Because the MBA's and the market (as represented by our very own poster Biotechtoredor (?)) have successfully set this moral paradigm, I would say that, with the exception of the money managers, we are, for the most part doomed to lower wages and poor job stability.

    3. I agree with NMH. I will never understand the Wall Street idea that unlimited, continuous growth is feasible. You know what in the natural world aspires to unlimited growth? Cancer! At the expense of its host. Is that what we really should be modeling ourselves after?

    4. I am of two minds about this - first, I think we can all agree that the "profit margins are 5% this year, and 10% next year" model is terrible for R&D chemists, and also that keeping margins moving in a larger-than-zero direction is good.

      Second, the critiques of GDP growth are, I think, somewhat less solid. Here is my overgeneralized argument:

      This is US GDP growth over the last few years:

      2007 1.8%
      2008 -0.3%
      2009 -2.8%
      2010 2.5%
      2011 1.6%
      2012 2.3%
      2013 2.2%
      2014 2.4%

      We've seen what the US is like in a "low GDP growth" era. Is this good? I don't think so.

    5. I suggest that you might think poor GDP GROWTH is bad only because that is the viewed pounded in by the media and the "experts". In principle, I see nothing wrong with NO GDP growth.

      In practice: one problem with having no growth is that in our society you will always have people (with MBA's) wanting, and getting, more than what they have. With no growth, that means somebody will get less.

    6. "Because the MBA's and the market (as represented by our very own poster Biotechtoredor (?)) have successfully set this moral paradigm, I would say that, with the exception of the money managers, we are, for the most part doomed to lower wages and poor job stability."

      You are set for lower wages and poor job stability, but it's what Americans wanted in freer trade: if they didn't they'd insist on US goods. Free trade is unstoppable... (per my favorite President https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tRqRafOqYU) nothing moral or immoral about it, just economics. Globally, what's bad for American workers is good for those living in third world countries who can now live a lifestyle Americans enjoyed in the 1930s, except with iphones.

    7. I see the analysts' talk of revenue or gains growth as doublespeak for share price growth. In the end this is the only thing investors want. One way to get there is to build an impression of future growth potential. The actual growth is not needed and it may be harmful (continuous high growth is difficult to achieve, it may be easier to post good growth after a decline).

      After the slicing and dicing of DuPont and Dow no one will we able to figure out what the growth should be, so any growth will be easier to sell.

      @NMH - ABSOLUTELY! GDP is a misguided indicator of well-being. High GDP growth leads to what you see in China now (or, what you can't see through smog?)

      @BTR - I strongly doubt that American's wanted freer trade. The demand for freer trade was the response of investors to the rise of collective bargaining and slow decline of post-WWII taxation. There is a discrepancy between the expressed desires and the voting record of American public. This just speaks to the power of salesmanship.

    8. "I strongly doubt that American's wanted freer trade."

      They voted in the politicians who made it law and they vote with their wallets every day by buying cheaper foreign goods....

    9. I imagine people didn't necessarily want cheaper goods, but what they figured they were paying for. If they were going to pay for good stuff and get crap (US cars?), then they might as well pay less to get crap. People aren't eager to save someone else's job if much of the job is taking them for granted. Some of that was workers but at least some was management's decision not to care about their customers. It probably worked out better for management than the rank-and-file - when your business goes downhill because you're just cashing the checks, then you can blame free trade, pillage the unions, ship your work out of country, and cash some more checks.

      I can't analyze other people's voting habits - I'm not sure if I'm crazy or stupid or if lots of other people are.

    10. As I wrote voting against self-interest is a powerful tradition in the US (and elsewhere).
      As for voting with our wallets, some of us do have the choice of buying what we think is right. Others don't have that choice in part as a consequence of the existing free trade.
      Since the free trade became status quo overcoming it requires more than just protesting it. Status quo tends to exist counter to good intentions.

    11. "voting against self-interest is a powerful tradition in the US"

      While that does explain how George Bush got elected in 2004, it does have a certain arrogance to it.

      It is a fair point that the status quo is tough to change, but it can be done if its what the people want: everyone can use the same drinking fountains these days and a man can marry a man....

    12. No problem with arrogance.

      Neither the free use of drinking fountains nor the (still uncertain... see AL news today) right to marry whomever became a reality because one morning some people decided to just change what they do or think. Both ideas came to be because of tremendous and often bloody effort to change the status quo. The effort was necessarily much stronger than the final achieved change because most people are not engaged any of these ideas. (Most people are actively engaged in many ideas, just the same ideas).

      To affect change on that scale it is necessary to first engage and then change the minds of much of the society. An action of one person can start this change. However, this action must be publicized, exploited, and blown out of proportion to be a tool of change.

      Rosa Parks' action was effective not only because of what she did, but because it was made into a symbol by civil rights leaders who could not deliver such symbols themselves.

      To break the back of the "free" trade insanity will take another Rosa Parks and probably more than one. I have yet to see any, or to see some leadership skillful enough to exploit them.

      In the mean time I will be buying T-shirts of the quality I need, wherever they are available.

    13. Bummer. I wanted to write:
      (Most people are actively engaged in many ideas, just not the same ideas).

    14. 1) I think people wanted to get what they thought they were paying for; with cars for example, what they got wasn't very good. If people were going to pay for decent cars and get crap, they had little reason not to spend less to get crap - sympathy for domestic companies and their workers only lasts as long as the sentiment is reciprocated, and being taken for granted does not count. I imagine we earned it some ourselves by not caring enough about our work, but at least part was management's decision that their customers didn't matter. I'm guessing the consequences to management were very different than to the rank-and-file (because the tactics of blame foreigners, ship jobs to Mexico, and make prettier cars are probably pretty profitable).

      2) "The most dangerous man is a man with an idea, when he only has one."

  14. Those GDP numbers look ok if we consider the inflation has been essential flat for many years.

  15. Dupont in recent years, especially Ag, sold off older, cheaper product lines to balance the books rather than reinvest. In a depressed market that revenue would have saved jobs.

    1. I think that is correct. This is just a reminder that neither corporations nor investors are natural job creators. They need jobs and workers only as long as they are critical to fulfill their primary goals. For corporations this is making money by creating profits. For straight-up investors it is making money by boosting share price. Jobs are cost centers.

    2. Except without jobs, you can't create anything. You need people to design and make your products. Without them, you aren't making any money, neither in profit or in share price.

      If deleting 2/3 of your core R+D is being "fundamentally, deeply committed to scientific innovation", I'd hate to see what they'd do if they weren't. Firebomb Wilmington?

    3. Management will probably set something up where scientists are expected to work 80 instead of 40 hour weeks to make up for the lost staff. If that is what is expected from academia, why should things change for scientists?