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Home Magazine A Conversation with Mike McDermott

A Conversation with Mike McDermott

Features - Industry News

Armed with a new class of chemicals, the global business manager of DuPont Professional Products is optimistic about the company's entry into the lawn care market.

Dan Moreland | March 10, 2004

Unassuming by nature, Mike McDermott, global business manager of DuPont Professional Products, is a classic "numbers guy." Fascinated by facts and figures, the New Jersey native graduated from Montclair State University with a degree in accounting in 1978, quickly rising through the ranks at several companies before returning to school to earn his MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

What has set McDermott apart from his colleagues in the heady world of high finance are his people skills. It’s a rare combination in business, but a combination that has served McDermott well throughout his 20 years in the specialty chemical industry, where he first made a name for himself at Wellcome in the late 1980s and then with Aventis Environmental Science, where he played a key role in the successful launch of fipronil in 2000.

McDermott says the most gratifying thing about his years at Wellcome and Aventis were the professional relationships he developed during that period. "I’ve had the good fortune to work with a lot of great people over the years," he says. "We built some successful businesses and in the process contributed to the growth of the lawn care industry. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything."

It’s an experience he hopes to replicate at DuPont Professional Products, which will introduce AdvionTM Fire Ant Bait – featuring a new class of chemistry – to the lawn care market in early April.

Lawn & Landscape recently caught up with McDermott as he prepared to unveil the company’s sales and marketing effort in the lawn care industry. Excerpts of the interview follow. A complete transcript appears at www.lawnandlandscape.com.

L&L: As someone who has worked for a number of major chemical manufacturers serving the lawn care industry what impresses you most about DuPont?

McDermott: DuPont is a company that knows how to discover, develop and bring cutting-edge technology to market (i.e. Tyvek, Kevlar, Corian). And once we bring a product to market we know how to maximize that investment for the benefit of both the company and its customers by introducing the technology to a whole host of different markets. 

L&L: Why is that relevant to lawn care professionals?

McDermott: It means DuPont is well equipped to take its active ingredients – chemicals like indoxacarb – to a number of markets, including the lawn care and pest control industries, two key markets for DuPont Professional Products.

L&L: Speaking of indoxacarb, can you provide our readers with some additional insights about this new chemistry?

McDermott: Indoxacarb is an insecticide discovered and developed by DuPont that will be the centerpiece of our product line for the next several years. We’re excited about indoxacarb because it provides broad spectrum-control of a variety of insects, is fast acting and has a novel mode of action. It’s also effective at low use rates, which is another reason it’s well suited for the lawn care market. For lawn care professionals, what’s most impressive about the active ingredient is its efficacy and residual control against fire ants and other pests.

You’ll also be seeing a variety of liquid turf products from DuPont. In fact, we have a number of initiatives planned for our herbicide portfolio, which is the centerpiece of our lawn care business.

L&L: In all, how many new products does DuPont plan to introduce in the coming years?

McDermott: The plan is to introduce one or two new products annually beginning in 2004 and for five years thereafter. Some products will have applications in both the turf and pest control markets, with the vast majority of those products based on our indoxacarb chemistry. Our first product introduction will be AdvionTM Fire Ant Bait, followed by a series of cockroach and ant products, including bait stations and gels. In addition, we’ll be introducing several new herbicides. We already offer a number of herbicides to the lawn care market through Griffin Chemical Co.

L&L: Speaking of Griffin Chemical Co., DuPont announced it had acquired the firm. What were the reasons behind the acquisition?

McDermott: DuPont had acquired 51 percent of Griffin Chemical a number of years ago, so we already had a significant interest in the company. The decision was made to acquire the remaining interest, so now it’s 100 percent owned by DuPont, and we’re currently in the process of integrating the company into the DuPont organization. The company has done a nice job of building its lawn care business and we expect that to continue in the years ahead. We don’t see any significant changes for Griffin Chemical in 2004. CEO Owen Town will continue to manage the business.

L&L: You say that Griffin has been a strong player in the green industry. Griffin does have some proprietary products, but they also have a lot of generic products. How will DuPont manage proprietary products vs. generic products? How will they market them? Does this give DuPont an advantage over other pesticide suppliers?

McDermott: Griffin has predominately marketed and sold post patent products and that will continue to be Griffin’s primary focus but only where we can provide additional value through formulation enhancement and improvement as well as product and market support. Griffin has always been very involved and supported industry initiatives such as RISE and GCSAA and will continue to do so in the future.

DuPont Professional Products will focus on bringing our proprietary products and technology to the green industry. The approach to the market, the level of investment and marketing as well as our channel partners will be different than the approach taken by Griffin.

L&L: What prompted DuPont to enter the lawn care market?

McDermott: DuPont made the strategic decision several years ago to expand its specialty chemical business. The company didn’t see a great deal of growth in the herbicide market, where it already had a presence, so they decided to invest more in the insecticide discovery process, seeking to develop several new classes of chemistry. Indoxacarb – as well as several other novel active ingredients – is a result of that investment. Indoxacarb was first launched in 1999 in the agricultural market. Right now there are products containing indoxacarb registered in 77 countries around the globe. Our plan is to introduce and develop a full line of indoxacarb-based products in a number of specialty markets.

L&L: Why is it so important for DuPont to gain access to specialty markets like the lawn care industry?

McDermott: If you look at the cost of doing business today, it’s a challenging world for the basic manufacturers. A new compound typically will cost a manufacturer $100 to $150 million to develop. That’s a significant investment for any company – even one as large as DuPont – so you better make sure you’re going to get a substantial return on that investment. When you consider the high cost of developing a new active ingredient, it becomes even more important to access as many different markets as possible, so you can generate the necessary financial returns to support your investment. By only looking at the agricultural market, Dupont was limiting its potential returns.

L&L: Earlier, you mentioned that DuPont has several new active ingredients in the pipeline. When do you anticipate these new chemistries will enter the marketplace?

McDermott: If all goes well, the next new class of chemistry from DuPont could be introduced in four years. The timing of these introductions will be critical so we can continue our tradition of offering novel technology to our customers.

L&L: Other than new active ingredients, what do you think DuPont brings to the lawn care market?

McDermott: We’re going to focus on developing quality products and business solutions for the lawn care industry, products that allow all of our partners – distributors, end-users and others – to succeed. DuPont has spent a long time developing a reputation for quality and integrity, and we don’t want to do anything that would damage that reputation. Therefore, our initial launch must be flawless.

L&L: In addition to the launch of AdvionTM, what are some of the other challenges facing DuPont as it enters the lawn care market?

McDermott: First of all, there are some very strong competitors in the lawn care market. A number of the basics have extensive product portfolios, so we’ll be competing against companies that are not only well established in their respective marketplaces, but have strong brands. The challenge for us will be to get the industry to try our products given the product options currently at their disposal. Fortunately, lawn care professionals have always been interested in new technology, so I think we’ll be able to overcome that challenge without too much trouble.

L&L: Given the competitive nature of the marketplace, how do you plan to differentiate DuPont from the other basic manufacturers serving the lawn care industry?

McDermott: Although the number of active ingredients introduced to the marketplace has slowed in recent years, it’s become more difficult for basic manufacturers to differentiate themselves from one another. Certainly, with a new class of chemistry (oxadiazines), we’ll be able to differentiate ourselves from a purely technical perspective, which is very positive for DuPont.

L&L: So do you believe that becoming a "solutions provider" is the way to go when developing market relationships?

McDermott: I think it’s an approach that some companies have been successful with, but it’s not the only approach. I think the important aspect of determining your success is product performance. If a product performs well over time, it's going to command a good share of the market. If it doesn't, it won't. That's the real key issue.

L&L: What are your plans for the future as it relates to the DuPont team?

McDermott: We plan to ramp up rather quickly, assuming we hit all of our product registration timelines. We can talk about DuPont’s ideals all we want, but it won’t mean anything unless we walk the talk. Now that we’re involved in this market, that’s our job … to walk the talk.

The author is executive vice president, GIE Media, and can be reached via nwisniewski@lawnandlandscape.com.

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