our journey of 45 years of chemistry
proviron, around the world in 45 days
On March 7, 1977, Leo Michiels founded Proviron. Four-and-a-half decades later, Proviron is an established name in the chemical sector. Through a strategy of specialization and sustainable development, we have grown into a reliable supplier with an impeccable reputation for flexibility and customer commitment.
the journey begins ...
We would like to take you on our unique trip around the world. Over the next 45 days, based on 5 power interviews, we will provide a unique insight into the goings-on within our departments around the globe.
Hemiksem - Belgium
Business Manager Provifrost
For this trip, we depart from the origins of Proviron, in Hemiksem.
One of our solid businesses is undoubtedly the de-icing branch. David Carbonez, Provifrost Business Manager, is the first to speak.
before the interview will be published
David Carbonez joined the company in late 2019 as Provifrost Sales Manager. This business unit focuses on de-icing solutions for the aviation industry. These include liquid wing de-icing agents, products to keep runways ice-free, and non-corrosive de-icing solutions to keep public areas in airports safe.
How was your takeoff at Proviron?
I was able to get a head start in my first week by participating in inter airport, Europe’s biggest aviation trade fair. It was great to see and experience the entirety of the aviation industry in all its complexity and to meet my international colleagues at the same time. Ever since, we have been working intensively with our customers and have proven to be a very reliable partner and a solid cornerstone of every de-icing activity we support.
And how has the journey been so far?
The global pandemic had a tremendous impact on Proviron, and certainly on my business. The aviation industry came to a near standstill. Travel for pleasure or business completely collapsed. But it challenged us to think about our strengths and weaknesses. The result was the understanding that we have to move forward with ‘green’ innovations in product development. And perhaps more importantly, to continue to focus on our most powerful asset – the level of service provided to our customers. After all, you can have the best product, but if you can’t deliver it on time to the right place, what’s the point?
What’s the highest altitude you’ve reached?
I am very proud of the collaboration with one of the major airports in the Benelux. (Lux Airport) It was hard work to convince them of the combination of greener products with reliable services. In our unit, a lot depends on winter weather conditions. The winter of 2020/2021 was looking to be very mild, so a late winter snap took everyone by surprise. With this partner, we were able to prove that we could turn our promises into flawless action.
Your team is looking for extra cabin crew. What advice do you have for newcomers at Proviron
We are a ‘lean and flexible’ organization. Colleagues are more helpful, not just because of the multinational environment, but because their actions have a direct visible impact. The common goal is clearer and people better understand their position in the chain. Be eager to learn and share that appetite with those around you to improve fast.
Any interesting anecdotes?
It was several years ago. Winter hit unusually hard and one of our airport services was in danger of running out of de-icing agent. We arranged for an emergency delivery, but the trucks got stuck in traffic. Under police escort, we got the truck to the airport just in time.
Ostend - Belgium
Our journey continues to Ostend, Proviron’s largest production site. Vanessa Doms, our Commercial Director, is waiting for us with her story of how she came to be coordinating the international sales team.
before the interview will be published
Vanessa Doms is a familiar face at Proviron. As head of the Sales Department, she takes us along on her journey, like a real tour guide. Having traveled the world, having lived in different continents and having been immersed in different cultures, she has an open mind on how to do business with people.
What was the date on your Proviron boarding pass?
I joined Proviron on October 1 2003 as Sales Manager. At that time, our sales team consisted of only the Commercial Director and 1 Sales Manager. Over time, we have considerably expanded our commercial efforts and invested in a global professional sales team. I sort of grew with the organization.
You’ve already seen a great deal of the world with Proviron?
Proviron has become a global market player with a solid global presence and in-depth knowledge of its markets. Proviron America and Proviron China are by now well-established companies with further potential for growth. The key to our success continues to be putting all our efforts into getting to know our customers. If you can identify with the customer’s situation, you can offer a personalized and flexible service.
What is your greatest long-term contribution to this expedition?
What I feel most proud of is the great team we have built and the cohesion that exists among all the colleagues. Together, we have the same goal: to make Proviron an even bigger success. Challenges are there to be tackled full-on and to push us towards a very promising future.
What’s your advice for someone new coming on board?
Take the invitation with both hands! Proviron is a company that encourages its employees to be creative and to think outside the box. An open family culture where you can explore and exchange ideas.
What has left the greatest impression on you?
Cultural differences! When confronted with cultural differences, you just realize there are other very valid ways of seeing the world. I find this very refreshing. Thinking about my experience in China evokes some very nice memories. The Chinese fascination with colors and numbers is quite interesting. The number eight is a very special number in Asia. It represents the closing of a cycle and continuity. I spent exactly 8 years in China for Proviron. My Chinese phone number is composed of just 888s and our office is on the 18th floor. You will also notice that we chose the color red for the logo instead of blue, with red being the color of good luck, success and happiness.
Friendly - USA
Commercial Manager Proviron Inc.
For the next stage of our journey, we cross the Atlantic and arrive at our American hub. Janet Sebastian is our Commercial Manager for the Americas region.
before the interview will be published
We arrived across the ocean and we’re being welcomed by a big smile. The first thing you notice is the smile of our colleague Janet Sebastian. And that good cheer is probably the most predominant feeling all over our American site.
When did you start smiling for Proviron?
The start of my journey with Proviron is quite interesting as it was just before the pandemic started that I began discussing the possibility of joining Proviron, Inc. in the United States. When Covid first hit the World took a big pause. However, Proviron decided not to delay moving forward with filling the position in the US even though in person interviews were not going to be possible. This had a major impact on my decision to join the company as I felt that Proviron was certain in a time of uncertainty. In June 2020 I was brought on as the new Commercial Manager for the Americas
Tell us about your experience during your first 2 years during these ‘turbulent times’?
Proviron weathered the business uncertainties as many companies curtailed production due to the early impact of Covid and has experienced growth amid a pandemic. During the past 21 months I have seen raw material shortages to the likes many say they have never seen in their careers in the chemical industry. Add to that the logistical challenges of getting product on ships, having enough workers at ports, or enough drivers to get product to the customer. Yet orders came in and deliveries got made. What strikes me most is how Proviron flexes with these challenges and the resilience of the whole team to succeed together.
And at what accomplishment will I see your biggest smile?
Actually, it is the concatenation of all the little successes. The growth of our Proviplast business has been challenging given the raw material shortages though we realized a 30% growth in 2021. In these uncertain times we see that customers prefer a strong reliable partnership. The proof is a new customer that committed their entire Proviplast 2604 business to Proviron based on the service we could provide. And the positive momentum is continuing as I am working with my colleagues to introduce a fourth Business Unit in America- A Mona-Lisa smile – more about this will come soon.
What advice would you give to the newcomers at Proviron?
Work hard, take initiative, and ask lots of questions. But above all ‘Smile’, you’re at Proviron Inc. If you have these characteristics, you are already well suited to enhance the customer support where we are already known for.
A smile, friendly faces, located in Friendly, WV … this isn’t a coincidence.
We are really a friendly group here in Friendly, WV. At a recent trade show, our first to have a booth at in years, I decided to sing a few lines of John Denver’s song “Country Roads” as I introduced Proviron during one of the sessions. I wanted to put Friendly on the map for the audience and give them an idea of how friendly and down to earth we are. And that authenticity seems to be highly appreciated by our customers.
Zhejiang - China
We continue our journey and take a leap across the sea. David Zhong awaits us across the Pacific Ocean. He wants to tell us about the growth of Proviron’s Chinese subsidiary.
before the interview will be published
David Zhong has been a member of the Proviron family for 10 years. In February 2012, he started as Assistant Sales Manager at the Pu Wei Lun subsidiary (Proviron China).
How did the family grow?
I have been with Proviron China from the very beginning, so I have witnessed all the changes it has gone through. Over the past 10 years, more colleagues have joined the Chinese team and more business is being done in the Asian market. We even have the luxury today of dividing up the sales by product group. Compared to the beginning, it is a tremendous advantage to be able to specialize in your segment.
What role did you play?
What I feel most proud of is having participated in the development and growth of Proviron China. The company has become an important part of the Proviron group. The high-quality “Made-in-Belgium” products have enjoyed an excellent reputation among our Asian customers. My colleagues feel like brothers and sisters, with me like the eldest brother.
If a new baby was on the way, what would be your advice?
With the continuous economic growth in China and Asia in general, there is a bright future ahead for the company and its products. However, we are still a very close-knit group, where everything is immediately observed by colleagues. That’s why I have some advice for newcomers: be passionate in what you do, always look for creative solutions and take initiative whenever you can.
Each family has its own customs. Pu Wei Lun too?
Of course. I would like to tell you about the use of Chinese Baijju (literally ‘white liquor’). This is a very popular drink in China, especially in the north. Drinking ‘Baijiu’ together is a part of building relationships, or even doing successful business. When toasting, people say ‘Ganhei’ (bottoms up). To show respect, people often clink the glasses by lowering theirs against the host’s. So, if you are planning a business trip to China, make sure you bring a driver that remains sober.
Hemiksem - Belgium
Finally, it is time to return to our roots. And who better than Leo Michiels, our founder, to complete our tour.
before the interview will be published
Back to the birthplace of Proviron. At the end of this world tour we are greeted by Leo Michiels, the founder of Proviron. He is happy to take us back to the early years of Proviron. As a trained engineer, Leo already had a clear opinion on the environment back in the 70s. It is better to focus on better processes than to look for solutions for processing the waste. Today, this vision continues to flow through the veins of Proviron.
Leo, you are the founder of Proviron. So it’s your honor to tell us how it all started.
As a civil engineer I had already done some great projects before the Proviron period. But in the 70s, the economy was shaken by the oil crisis. During this “hectic period”, I was surprised that many companies had a rather hypocritical and short-term view. Recruiting staff was focused on “bringing information and knowledge” rather than on the individual. In addition, there was a rather conservative atmosphere among many engineering firms that was not conducive to critical scrutiny of business models.
And so I came to the point that setting up my own agency was the only way to develop real solutions with my approach. Being able to focus on the real core business without dead weight is the power of a startup. And you can still find that mentality today, for example in the organization of the business units.
In the early years, Proviron was an engineering firm. Only after a few years did Proviron start production itself.
A good network is important. People must be able to trust you as an honest person, which gives you respect. From the beginning of my career, I have paid a lot of attention to this. I was known for my pragmatic and down-to-earth approach and was regularly asked for my practical expertise.
When Proviron started as an engineering firm, we mainly had projects where together with customers we were looking for solutions and better processes. The switch from laboratory setup to production often appeared to be an underestimated step. Because a lab set-up can work perfectly, but when it comes to a large execution, there’s a lot more to it in practical and economic terms.
An example. When drawing up a reactor vessel, you can include a rounding margin in the calculation. This margin is increased X times during execution. Sometimes it has little impact and the process will work anyway. However, if the direction of the non-return valve is not specifically indicated in the design and is installed in reverse, the entire process immediately crashes. In the field you notice that immediately. But if you just have a plan on paper, it’s going to be very hard to remove this mistake.
After a while we were instructed to deal with problems in the design of brake fluid production. For example, we were able to enter into a fair deal to carry out contract manufacturing assignments in addition to engineering development.
Cooperation with knowledge institutions such as the University of Antwerp has always been important. As an engineer, you can make great plans, but to get the investment process completed, you must be able to submit the necessary tests and trials. Thanks to the good cooperation, we were able to carry out test projects until they were fully completed. An anecdote that is still being told to the UA students is that they had to remove the roof of the facility to get our test stand in the building.
Over the years, Proviron grew steadily and expanded to Ostend and USA in 1996.
In the mid-90s, we continued to grow in our production year after year. The site in Hemiksem was at its limits and I started looking for an expansion in another location. During one of the networking moments at a work committee at the UA, I talked about my quest for expansion during the coffee break. This led to my discovering a site in Ostend that could be taken over.
The Proviron America trajectory also originated from good contacts and companies looking for honest partners. For years I had had good contact with Mr. Walsh, an American who led a production unit in Antwerp for a while. When the demand arose to build a more efficient production chain in America, we joined forces and I founded Proviron Inc. together with Walsh. Once again, a fair deal was the reason for the long-term vision, which after 25 years has become Proviron’s hub for the Americas.
Even later came the opportunity to expand to the East. And so 10 years ago Proviron China was founded.
You’ve seen a lot of people pass through during your career. What attributes do applicants need to join Proviron?
Just like the startup in 1977, the drive to look at things critically, to tackle them practically and to think out of the box is in Proviron’s DNA. Innovation is often not just about developing big theories and conducting years of research in test environments. Many innovations arise from logical thinking and looking at things with a helicopter view. And that’s what characterizes a Provironer. You must remain open to continue to discover things outside your domain. When I interviewed a chemist in an application at the time, I asked them to explain “Ohm’s Law”. Even though this is completely outside the comfort zone of chemistry, this is basic knowledge in a production environment. You can therefore at least expect the applicant to ask how this relates to his or her future job. (… yes, even as an interviewing marketer, I had to dig deep for the terms Volt and Ampere, but could see the link between chemical processes and the electrical control of the installation)
Proviron will undoubtedly be around for another 45 years. Where do you see Proviron then?
This is a difficult question on the one hand, because there are so many parameters that influence good opportunities. On the other hand, I am sure that the core values will ensure that Proviron has a bright future. Integrity and willingness to maintain a broad view are the ingredients for long-term growth. Because with sustained growth, you give employees the opportunity to develop. And that is not only good for the person and the company, but it also makes Proviron a reliable business partner.
Finally, you have an anecdote for us.
There are so many anecdotes to tell. From times when it was necessary to keep watch in the production hall on a camp bed at the launch, to funny misunderstandings. But the “toothpick” among newcomers is one that is worth telling.
As an engineer, you know that manual operation must be taken into account in the designs. But because concentration in humans is not constant, systems are installed to compensate for this. By having the operator press a button every half hour, this can be checked. But people are human and sometimes this process is simply tricked by holding the button with a toothpick. We also had such systems installed, but there was an extra function where the timer only starts counting again after releasing the button. If it turned out that the button was still being pressed after that half hour, an alarm went off that immediately alerted all those responsible. Imagine this happens during your evening shift and the alarm is raised to the highest level. And so you get all the superiors out of their beds … for a toothpick. So to the newcomers at Proviron, even if the new systems no longer have a physical button, be careful if you get a toothpick from one of your colleagues!
As with any trip, it is not possible to visit everything on one voyage. For our 45th anniversary, we are proud to share these stories with you in advance. We’ll keep the rest for our anniversary trip.
And of course, if you don’t feel like waiting, you can always contact one of our 240 staff members.