Over the course of more than a week, we’ve been looking at my top 10 stories across the industrial gas year – and what a year it has been. Throughout the top 10 we’ve been reflecting on hydrogen, synthetic fuels, ASU growth, medical oxygen milestones, and so much more besides.
Yesterday, I looked back on a story that is undoubtedly a sign of the future gases industry to come, but also a story that one could be forgiven for overlooking. That concerned the increaisng arrival of renewable power agreements for air separation units (ASUs) and, therefore, the realm of ‘green air gases’.
Today, I can reveal that my number one story across the year is also with the exciting new era for the industry in mind – but certainly far from an overlooked story.
This is a headline development that broke on 25th October, became far and away one of our most-read stories in the months of October and November, and is still trending in our top 10 most-read for December.
It was the news that Sanjiv Lamba will succeed Steve Angel as CEO of Linde plc, effective 1st March (2022). And you can read it in full, with all of the analysis, right here…
Having served at the industrial gas giant for more than 30-years, Lamba has held various leadership roles and is currently the company’s Chief Operating Officer, a role he has held since October 2020. Within this role Lamba is responsible for the regional operating segments of the Americas, APAC, and EMEA, as well as Linde Engineering, Lincare, and certain global functions, initiatives and businesses.
“I am truly honoured to lead this outstanding company into the future,” he said. “Linde is exceptionally well-positioned to capitalise on profitable growth opportunities in several end markets, including electronics, healthcare and clean energy.”
Steve Angel, Linde’s current CEO, will become Chairman to succeed Wolfgang Reitzle who will retire after nearly 20 years with the company.
Angel was named CEO of Linde plc in 2018 and successfully led the merger of Linde AG and Praxair into the world’s largest global industrial gases and engineering company.
A new era for the industry
Stories don’t get much bigger and as I reflected in my own column at the time, it’s an interesting development on so many levels. The very top leadership roles of these huge Tier One players seldom change hands very often, and particularly so if those companies are performing well. That’s why it’s so fascinating to see succession planning in progress, and I look forward to seeing this changing of the guard when it happens in March.
Lamba’s leadership of the business will come at an exciting, if not transitional, time for the business and the industry as a whole. In fact, it’s arguably the most opportunistic time for the industry and those leaders within it and, equally, the most challenging.
This is a whole new period for the industry. It feels very much as though the industrial and specialty gas ecosystem of today and tomorrow is being re-imagined and reinvigorated before our eyes.
For any of the top executives in the industry, it isn’t going to be just about building footprint, delivering strong margins and carving out new growth drivers as we may have seen in years gone by. This is a time of juggling all of those core goals against a backdrop of megatrends that challenge and stimulate the gases industry.
Huge opportunities exist in decarbonisation and sustainability, with the industry undoubtedly at the forefront of this transition – but those same opportunities come with their own challenges. The industry itself has to decarbonise and move to a new footing, as I reflected on yesterday with our story at number two, all about sustainability and renewable power for air separation units (ASUs).
Changing of the guard
We now know that a significant changing of the guard at the top echelons of our industry will take shape in 2022.
As speculated in some corners, news of Lamba’s pending leadership at Linde has since been followed by the announcement earlier this very month that there is also to be change at the top of Air Liquide.
The fellow Tier One player revealed that Benoît Potier will bring the curtain down on more than 20 years of leadership as CEO of Air Liquide next year, with François Jackow confirmed to succeed him from 1st June 2022.
Potier will remain in his role as Chairman of the Board.
The transition and the group’s leadership succession plan was unanimously approved at a meeting of Air Liquide’s Board of Directors on 30th November. It’s a succession plan which will see the implementation of a new governance structure and separation of the roles of Chairman and CEO for the first time in more than 15 years at Air Liquide.
The Board of Directors ‘expressed its conviction’ in this new form of governance, within the framework of this succession, and welcomed the fact that the group will retain the benefit of Potier’s successful experience in the two roles.
At the time of the decision, Potier has managed the Air Liquide Group for 20 years and chaired the Board for 15 years, marking a hugely successful period of leadership for the Paris-based business, which has seen the group more than double in size and increase its market capitalisation five-fold.
Under Potier’s transformation, Air Liquide has also positioned itself at the forefront of healthcare, digitisation and the energy transition and hydrogen in particular – with arguably its best years still to come as a result.
And those best years ahead begin in earnest in the coming days and weeks. We can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for the industry and us all!
Other highlights with significant longevity…
And on that note, I’d like to give an honourable mention if you will, to some of my other picks from the industrial gas year that we’ll see much more of in 2022 and beyond.
There’s the formation of ChartWater back in August, which shone the spotlight on the immense challenges – and opportunities – ahead for our industry in the water and water treatment sector.
This is a burning issue and in many ways overlooked, so it was great to see a company lime Chart Industries firmly stepping up to the plate. It’s something I wrote about myself recently and found to be an incredibly thought-provoking topic.
We’ve also seen fresh CO2 shortages, major developments in blue hydrogen, and much more besides – but I simply couldn’t squeeze them all in, such has been the magnitude of the industrial gas year in 2021.
These are all huge stories for our industry, and indeed for the world. Water treatment and water shortages are a mammoth topic that I think are going a little under the radar as we move into 2022, but will soon become an even more pertinent topic for us all.
Likewise, rightly or wrongly, blue hydrogen is going to be a major bridge to the green hydrogen society that we’re all working toward, and this announcement from Air Products in October was more than significant.
It was a statement of intent, it was the company’s biggest ever single investment, and it’s a sign of what’s to come in blue hydrogen products…
And of course, that perennial hot topic of CO2 is never far from the headlines – and those storm in a teacup shortages in the UK in September were a stark reminder of the supply chain’s fragilities.
They were also endemic of the sustained high natural gas prices and our need as a world economy to move away from the constraints of fossil fuel supplies – the trickle-down effect that any market moves has, can be severely felt. As we move into 2022, our focus will of course be on CO2 markets and a supply chain fit for 2030 as we reconvene the CO2 community for gasworld’s CO2 Summit 2022 in Austria in March.
With so much to discuss, we look forward to seeing you there!