Back to How We Help Clients

Specialty Chemicals

Helping specialty chemical companies build strategies based on their core strengths and translate industry-specific trends into actionable opportunities for growth.

As Western players face increasing pressure from rival producers and local players try to capture a larger share of the global market, specialty chemical companies around the world must find new ways to grow and compete. We help clients achieve functional excellence and create profitable, sustainable, long-term growth in the context of a shifting market landscape. By combining our extensive industry knowledge and experience with our distinctive methodologies and tools, we help specialty chemical companies develop strategies that capitalize on external trends—as well as their own capabilities and strengths. We support clients on corporate and business unit strategies, mergers and acquisitions, growth, R&D and innovation, operations, and marketing and sales.

Examples of our work

  • We helped a major chemicals player address uneven performance across its business portfolio. By conducting a detailed analysis of each individual business strategy in the context of megatrends, we helped the client develop the long-term direction of its overall corporate strategy. We supported the client throughout implementation, including multiple acquisitions, divestitures, and changes to the organizational setup. Ultimately, the company doubled the size of its chemical business, and substantially improved the portfolio’s performance.
  • We helped a major specialty chemicals company develop a comprehensive growth strategy for one specific customer industry, which had up to that point been scattered across its portfolio. By reviewing the trends and growth opportunities from a customer perspective, we were able to help the client develop a profitable growth strategy that addresses the industry’s core, unmet needs. The strategy will help the client, which had been an opportunistic player in that industry, become a leading supplier.
  • We supported a major European chemicals client as it reallocated resources across its business portfolio after a merger. We conducted a thorough review of the businesses’ positions of power and underlying portfolio momentum, which helped create a clear strategy for reallocation, and produced a roadmap for performance improvement that would improve the company’s competitive position.
  • We helped a global specialty chemicals company address declining contribution margins through improved pricing, and better portfolio and contract management. By implementing new pricing tools and processes, training sales managers on their use, and implementing a new performance management system, the program identified improvements that will result in a 2 to 5% increase in return on sales for each business unit within 24 months.
  • We helped a major Europe-based specialty chemicals company identify operational improvements in an effort to help the company meet its long-term financial goals, pave the way for growth, and increase its competitiveness. Through a series of site visits, interviews, and joint workshops, we identified nearly €300 million in improvement measures, and supported the client on extensive capability-building and training efforts.

Featured capabilities

Our Specialty Chemicals group draws on several proprietary tools and databases. These include:

  • McKinsey Chemicals Value Pools: This proprietary database captures information about the major growth arenas for specialty chemical companies including size, regional impact, long-term growth forecast, stage of development, and impact of innovation within these markets.
  • McKinsey TrendMaker: An evergreen repository of hundreds of business, demographic, and economic trends, it extends the depth and reach of trend perspectives beyond megatrends to, for example, specific customer industries for specialty chemicals.
  • Innomatics: Our proprietary innovation and R&D benchmarking tool helps clients compare their performance in innovation against their peers.
  • We also use functional resources from our Operations and Marketing & Sales practices, such as Periscope, a pricing- and margin-management tool.

Featured experts

Thomas Weskamp

Senior Partner, Cologne

Ulrich Weihe

Senior Partner, Frankfurt

Related insights


Adapting your operating model to the next normal: The next big move in chemicals

– Increasing uncertainty in chemicals requires companies to adopt new operating models. Four guiding principles can help players... incorporate strategies that reflect the new realities of the industry.

Digital platforms in chemicals: The game is on—will the winner take all?

– Direct commercial interfaces—or digital platforms—are increasingly preferred by B2B buyers. Chemical companies that... hope to win in this space must move fast.