Leadership Spotlight: Kevin Palmer, Palmer International

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Kevin Palmer is the Chief Executive Officer of Palmer International, Inc., a niche chemical company producing derivatives from Cashew Nutshell Liquid. He has been CEO since 2005. In much the same way as prior Palmer family leaders, Kevin strives to unleash his team’s creativity to build value for Palmer’s longstanding customers. Kevin graduated with a degree in Business Administration from Bucknell University in 1992. In his free time, he enjoys CrossFit, DIY projects, fly fishing, hiking and learning bass guitar.

What is your current role and area of responsibility?

I’m the CEO of Palmer International, Inc. I help oversee the strategy and operation of the global group, including several subsidiaries and a joint venture.

How would you describe your work/leadership style and why has it worked so well for you?

I’ve been in the CEO role for fifteen years now, and my leadership style has evolved with the changing needs of the organization. In 2005 the company required significant hands-on decision-making, whereas today, with an exceptional management team in place, my style is more of a visionary and mentor. Regardless, I can’t help but get involved in the details; I love my job and my family’s company. I think my style has worked for me because our employees know that I would do anything for them, and there isn’t one job that I would ask them to do that I haven’t either already done myself, or I would be prepared to do myself.

What do you see as your biggest challenge right now?

My biggest challenge is planning for unprecedented growth in demand for our largely rapidly renewable resource-based chemistries. For many decades, biobased chemistries weren’t in high demand. That has changed for certain! We are making sizable investments in both the USA and India.

What do you look for when evaluating top talent?

Energy, subject mastery, teamwork and versatility. That’s not asking too much, right?

What is the best career advice you have been given?

When I first started with the company in 1994, my father asked me, “What business are we in?” I responded confidently, “The Cashew Nutshell Liquid business.” He said, “Wrong. We are in the people business.” That was the best advice ever. Companies cannot grow and thrive without talented, collaborative people.

What can you tell us about your company and the markets you serve?

Palmer International was founded by my grandfather in 1946. By the 1950s we were already specializing in Cashew Nutshell Liquid (CNSL) chemistries. We strive to be the most highly regarded cashew resin brand when it comes to quality, commercial reliability and integrity. Beyond our core friction markets, we manufacture epoxy curing agents for industrial coatings, cashew polyols for polyurethane foams and coatings, cashew air-dry resins for architectural stains and varnishes, and a myriad of other niche chemicals for various specialty applications.

Related post:
Palmer International Mourns Loss of Industry Veteran

What is (are) the major challenge(s) facing your organization now, in the near term and the long term?

The electrification of vehicles will forever change the wants and needs of our friction-material customers. How Palmer responds to those changes will be critical to our success. In the long-term, overall raw material tonnages will inevitably decline, but we believe demand for quality and performance from those raw materials will continue to increase. Eventually, friction materials will only be applied in the most dire of situations; they better work!

How do you see the industry evolving over the next five-10 years and do you have any bold predictions for us?

Having recently attended the virtual SAE Brake Colloquium, raw material suppliers for friction composite producers will have to focus on reducing system corrosion and providing stable and predictable cold friction properties. Palmer is working on several neutral pH particle launches, and we are investing in new test processes and apparatuses to measure sulfate ions among others. While brake emissions are a hot topic today, we believe that tire emissions will command more attention as regenerative braking reduces the number of engagements between the mating surfaces.

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What are the best opportunities for the company?

Palmer has a very aggressive organic growth plan that centers around growing our recently commissioned joint venture in India (Palmer Novosis Green Technologies), introducing new neutral pH particles for friction, and diversifying into brand new products and markets.

Tell us something that most people might not know about you or your organization.

I don’t know if this is a family secret, but our original name was “Palumbo,” not “Palmer.” My great grandfather immigrated to the U.SA., and his son, my grandfather, changed his name to “Palmer.” While my father and two uncles have already passed, my aunt (Roberta) is still very involved in the company as the current Chairman of the Board.

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