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Andy Wilde, Chief Information Officer at Jacobi. Small picture: Andy with Chris Jonesfirst born, Stephanie, who has worked for Jacobi UK as well. Photo taken 1995.

Thank you for all these years of service

Working together for 25 years creates a special bond. As colleagues and lifelong friends, Andy Wilde, Mark Downs and Chris Jones have been with Jacobi for the entire journey, from the very beginning to the global company we are now. We spent an evening in October together on Microsoft Teams, reminiscing and discussing what the future might hold for Jacobi. Lots of laughter, as usual, and a few insights into what it was like to work for Jacobi at the very start.

It’s a pleasure to have you here guys. Maybe you can start with telling us what you do at Jacobi today?

Mark: I’m the Global Laboratory Manager, responsible for all the laboratories and work being aligned. I also look at equipment standardisation, which helps the test methods to be aligned as well.

Chris: I run the UK warehouse and production facility along with the site services that take place in the UK and Europe.

Andy: I’m the CIO, Chief Information Officer, for the group, but I also get involved in work with engineering projects, new production plants, basically across many areas of the business. The CIO title is more like a place marker, it could be innovation, IT, and many other things.

I think one thing to say is that what we do now is not necessarily what we have always done, because we’ve been with the company for 25 years and been involved in many, many things over the years. I mean both Chris and Mark have done a dozen other things apart from what they are talking about now.

The trio were given cakes to mark 25 years of service.

Mark: Yeah, probably means I’ve been worse than everyone else, so they had to move me around...

Andy: That’s right, you just kept getting promoted until you couldn’t do any more harm...

Mark: I think that’s the case for all of us, we all end up doing something out of scope because we’re that sort of people.

Andy: Across the company, many people do many things. We’re not cornered in to one specific area. We feel it’s our duty to make sure that everything is done well.

And now you are at the big milestone of 25 years, quite an achievement. Well worth a cake to mark the occasion.

Andy: I got the Swedish princess cake. What cake did you get Mark?

Mark: I got the wedding cake, very nice.

Chris: Yes, it was a nice wedding cake you got there Mark.

25 years, how does that feel?

Chris: No difference, I’ve always felt eighteen.

Mark: It’s gone pretty quickly. We’ve all had kids and grown up a little bit, but it doesn’t seem that long ago.

Andy: That’s exactly what I’ve written in my notes. It’s gone very quickly.

Today, it’s not unusual for people to find a new job every few years. What kept you with Jacobi for so long?

Mark: I don’t think in this company people do change every few years. It must be something about the company. Certainly, for me, there’s been a lot of stability in my life because of  Jacobi. And happiness, I’ve been quite happy here, so why would I move around and look for something else? And, before Andy says it, no one else would have me anyway!

Andy: Yeah, I did have a funny comment that nobody else would take us, and that’s why we stayed this long, but that is of course not at all true. I mean, many other companies have tried to employ us, that’s for sure, but we’re loyal, and we’ve stayed loyal mainly because historically, we’ve been loyal to the previous owner, whose name is Anders Skeini.

A personal friendship with him from the beginning, close interaction all the time, involvement in every aspect of the business has given me absolutely no desire whatsoever to go anywhere else, because I think what we do here is great. And the sense of belonging to the company continues to be strong with new owners and leadership.

“We’ve always had a challenge around the corner, and it kept me interested all along the way.”

Chris Jones, General Works Manager at Jacobi.
Small picture: Chris in 2006 on one of many weekend trips to Conwy, Wales with Andy Wilde.

At that time, had the company become focused on activated carbon?

Andy: Yes, the UK company was 100 per cent dedicated to activated carbon. The parent company in Sweden was still a trading company doing other products, but not long after Anders Skeini took over the company, we disposed of the other business areas and focused on carbon, and road poles. We still do road poles actually.

Mark: We still do them now Andy?

Andy: Yeah, yeah, we do carbon, resins and road poles.

Mark: I’ve never seen the article numbers in Netsuite for
road poles.

Andy: They are there, I promise.

So, we’ve all done a lot over the years. One of the first things we did was going to China and setting up the processing and packaging company, which was a real door opener and helped Jacobi to expand hugely in the carbon business, because we were unique. We were the only people really from Europe, actively present in China with our own operation and people, products and packaging.

“You can’t keep growing at the same rate, but we do have some new business units.”

Brand was everything, that’s when Niklas was involved as a designer. Everything was about the packaging, the first impression of a product is what it’s packed in. And we made sure that was the best it could be, and number two, we made sure that the product in the package was the best it could be as well. So those two together, that was the winning formula.

Mark: I remember that we were the first carbon company that was counterfeited. An agent in the Far East copied our packaging and was buying lower quality product from a different supplier and selling it as ours. Counterfeiting must have been really unusual for the business. They quickly stopped being an agent.

Andy: Chris and I spent a while in China building that plant, and you joined us as well Mark, setting up a lab, so we’ve all worked globally. I lived in Sri Lanka for three years, I lived in Sweden, I’ve lived all over the place. We all have been everywhere for Jacobi at some point in time doing stuff.

Sri Lanka is a special place for us, it’s where we built our first real factory.

Mark: Yeah, Sri Lanka is the one place that I always think of as the start of the real activation of Jacobi.

“There was only us, so we did everything on our own.”

Give us a good story from the early days.

Chris: Do you remember the fish pond Andy? Jacobi’s first acid wash plant was in my fish pond.
It was a brand new fish pond, which was raised above ground and made in butyl rubber, ready to take Koi Carp, which is one of my passions today, but we needed to wash some carbon, and there were no fish in it at that moment, so we used the tank as a wash tank. I can’t remember the tonnage, can you remember it Mark?

Mark: It was 800 kilos, our first order, and it was for a company called Thermolec. We called the carbon Aquasorb 03. How is that for a memory Andy?

Andy: You’ve done the homework tonight, but I don’t think it’s true, I thought it went to NEC in Scotland.

Mark: Oh, for the semi-conductor washing plant? Well, I could be wrong.

Mark Downs, Global Laboratory Manager, working from home during the pandemic.
Small picture: A Jacobi Day at Chester Races, 2004. Mark with wife, Jude.

How do you think that Jacobi will develop in the coming years?

Mark: I read that question in advance, and I have no idea. In 25 years, we’ve not stood still yet. We’ve gone from three people to 2000 people in those years.

Andy: Obviously, you can’t keep growing at the same rate. It’s not possible. The market is a certain size, and we get to a certain saturation point. But we have some new business units where I am right now, Finland, Resins is a relatively new business unit for us. So we have activated carbon, service and resin, and now that we have a manufacturing plant for resin, for me, it’s like a new beginning. It’s like when we built Sri Lanka, our first carbon plant, so I think it’s a beginning of a new stage actually. We can start big growth yet again, in a new area.

A milestone to remember.

Chris: I hope that we grow and develop. As Andy says, now it’s more about developing the business in various ways so it keeps growing.

Mark: Over the 25 years, the usage of carbon has changed massively. I mean, there’s new developments that we never would have imagined 25 years ago, like superconductors, PFAS removal from wastewater. We never considered any of that, so as three guys working in the carbon industry over 25 years, it’s all new. What could possibly happen in the next 25 years? We don’t know what’s going to be the next contaminants we’re going to deal with.

Andy: But the good thing is that we’re flexible and adaptable, and we will go in the direction where the new growth is, so the future looks good. We’re doing fine, even in a pandemic.

Mark: I like to think it’s because in every country, in every division, the company is built on people. All through our growth from the beginning, we have been lucky to attract some great people to the company, people who are knowledgeable in their individual fields and fit right in to the team. Good colleagues make work great fun.

“We have all made a lot of lifelong friends, all over the world.”

Andy: One thing to remember is, that we’ve been with this company for 25 years, but quite a few years ago, we did an acquisition of a company in France called Pica, and that was a big step change for the company where we grew a hundred per cent in one day basically, and some of the people there have been in the business a lot longer than we have. So there are quite a few other people that have been with the company for a long time, just to put it into context.

Mark: The company has enabled me to make a lot of new friends all over the world, and that’s been priceless.

Andy: We have all made a lot of friends all over the world, and they are lifelong friends aren’t they? And back to memories Mark, I think you should have some Scotland photos, from the best party ever right? Jacobi is all about parties, we’re always partying.

Mark: I do have those photos somewhere, I will dig them out one day maybe. Okay, so I got asked to organise a party, 2006 perhaps. I rented a castle in Scotland and flew people in from all around the world for a weekend. We had highland games, a murder mystery with professional actors coming in, and after that... I never got asked to organise a party again. Because it cost so much money. But it was a nice castle though.

Andy, Chris and Mark, it’s been a pleasure talking to you and learning about Jacobi’s beginnings all those years ago. Here’s to many more.

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