New leadership at U.S. polysilicon makers Wacker and Hemlock

Arabinda Ghosh (left), designated Chairman and CEO of Hemlock Semiconductor, and Ken Collins, site leader of Wacker Chemical Corporation’s polysilicon and pyrogenic silica plants in Charleston, Tennessee
New top executives at Hemlock and Wacker: Arabinda Ghosh (left) and Ken Collins – Images: Midland Daily News, The Chattanoogan

Both the U.S. subsidiary of Wacker and its competitor Hemlock Semiconductor have announced changes in their leadership positions: Ken Collins replaced Mary Beth Hudson as site leader of Wacker Chemical Corporation’s polysilicon and pyrogenic silica plants in Charleston, Tennessee in August; Arabinda Ghosh will follow Mark Bassett as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Hemlock Semiconductor Operations LLC in Hemlock, Michigan at the end of this year.

Wacker’s new site manager has a strong background in environment, health and safety

Wacker Chemical’s President and CEO David Wilhoit said Collins’ expertise “aligns with our position that safety is a precondition of all we do.” Collins, a chemical engineer by education, has gathered extensive experience as a plant manager during multiple engagements in the paper and chemical industries, for example at Procter & Gamble, Arizona Chemical and most recently Owens Corning, where he “led measurable improvements in safety, environmental and operational performance”, according to Wacker.

Collins’ predecessor Mary Beth Hudson was site manager in Charleston from shortly after the start-up of the 20,000-ton polysilicon plant in 2016 through to the product improvement from solar to electronic grade. Her tenure was, however, overshadowed by a series of accidents, starting with a major explosion of a hydrogen compressor, which resulted in an eight-month plant shutdown from September 2017 through April 2018, and culminating in the death of a contract worker during maintenance operations in November 2020. Hudson left the company in February 2021.

With a strong background in environmental, health and safety management, her successor Collins knows what he is dealing with: According to his LinkedIn profile, he started at Arizona Chemical with leading the company’s plant in Savannah through a fatality and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation within five months. Wacker Chemical’s CEO Wilhoit has indicated that Collins will also play a role in Charleston at looking toward “opportunities for future growth and expansion.”

The financial acumen of Hemlock Semiconductor’s designated CEO faces new challenge

At competitor Hemlock Semiconductor, Arabinda “AB” Ghosh joined the company as Chief Operating Officer on September 27 and will take over the position of Chairman and CEO Mark Bassett at year’s end when Bassett will retire from this role. Native Indian Ghosh has a background in finance and accounting; he spent most of his previous career as an executive with Akzo Nobel and Nouryon, global leaders in specialty chemicals and coatings, where he led business units with revenues of up to $2.4 billion and over 5,600 employees.

Like Mary Beth Hudson at Wacker, outgoing CEO Mark Bassett went on board of Hemlock Semiconductor in 2016. Under his leadership, the company became more visible on LinkedIn and Facebook, although mainly launching soft topics, such as corporate culture and social sponsoring. Regarding its production scale, Hemlock has remained as tight-lipped as ever.

Due to the prohibitively high Chinese duties on solar-grade polysilicon imports from the USA, Bassett could not prevent that the company’s active production capacity has more than halved from its peak of 43,000 metric tons a decade ago. During Bassett’s tenure, Hemlock was also overtaken by Wacker as the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic-grade polysilicon for semiconductors.

Hence, there is some homework to do for the designated CEO Ghosh. His LinkedIn profile is full of career stations where he improved revenues and earnings by a significant margin. However, the polysilicon business will surely be a new challenge to Gosh.

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