By Vicky Villena-Denton and Aaron Stone
In October 2016, Valentina Serra-Holm was elected president of the Union of European Lubricants Industry (UEIL), replacing outgoing president Fabio Dalla Giovanna. UEIL is the “preeminent” trade association in Europe, representing the interests of lubricant businesses throughout the region. Fuels & Lubes International spoke to Serra-Holm recently to understand her priorities as president of the organisation during her two-year stint.
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Serra-Holm is global marketing and technology director for Nynas, a manufacturer of speciality naphthenic oils and bitumen products. After completing not one, but two PHDs, in Chemical Plants and Chemical Reaction Engineering, and publishing more than 40 scientific papers, Serra-Holm acknowledged she was “not sufficiently stimulated” with university working life and joined Nynas in 2000. Her career now spans 17 years with the company and features a range of technical roles and, from 2008 onwards, marketing appointments. The current position heads a global team responsible for the marketing, technical development, market support and research of naphthenic products.
Nynas was founded in 1928 as a national oil company with a traditional product range. Today’s offering is focused on niche markets for naphthenic oils including chemical, lubricant, electrical and tyre segments. The Swedish company boasts sales offices in more than 30 countries and fully owned refineries in Nynäshamn, and Gothenburg, Sweden and Harburg, Germany. A refinery in Eastham, UK, is a joint venture with Shell.
Serra-Holm enjoys “the challenge of predicting where the industry is going” and developing solutions before the market needs them. She highlighted significant opportunities for her employer in Asia, particularly in emerging markets, and acknowledged a desire to increase the company’s footprint in the region in the future. Although, Serra-Holm concedes, the size and diversity of Asia means that from a regulatory perspective it can be extremely complex and challenging.
Demand for naphthenic products is strong, a testament to Nynas’s strategy to focus only on applications “fit for purpose” and where naphthenics deliver “high performance.” Three main drivers contribute to ongoing demand. Emerging markets, where demand is growing and where there is a shift towards higher quality more environmentally conscious products, is fuelling growth. Nynas is a global leader in the manufacture of electrical oils, and Serra-Holm also cites increasing demand through expanding electrification programs.
A final trend is Group I base oil substitution. In 2016, 25% of Western Europe Group I capacity closed, providing considerable opportunities for naphthenic oils, with 8% sales growth in Western Europe for the company. A strategy, devised by Serra-Holm, to create a series of product blends of naphthenic and Group II oils that mimic Group I properties, proving a master stroke.
The Nynas executive has had a somewhat meteoric rise to the presidency of UEIL, serving only two years as a board member, the minimum amount of time required before promotion is available. However, she has been actively involved in several industry groups throughout her career, including as a long standing board member of ELGI, the European Lubricating Grease Institute.
It is clear Serra-Holm has boundless energy and a passion for the industry, both important attributes — particularly as the structure of UEIL means it can be difficult to govern.
UEIL is a union of organisations. The decision-making process is naturally slow and quite complex; decisions requiring validation by national associations before the European association. Serra-Holm says it is also quite a “diverse market” across Eastern and Western Europe — with different needs and drivers. Accommodating everyone’s requirements can be demanding.
Advocacy, and communicating the value (in economic terms) created by the lubricant industry and conveying the industry’s views to regulators, Serra-Holm identifies as its most important task. She says, a key challenge with the European Union is rules are often administered without a detailed understanding of the impact on a particular industry. UEIL plays an integral role in presenting lubricant knowledge, needs and drivers to European parliament, to ensure they do not make decisions that will harm the industry.
Serra-Holm highlighted two main ambitions for the remaining 18 months of her presidential term. There is increasing discussion on sustainability throughout the lubricant industry; Serra-Holm wants UEIL to become the driver for the industry in terms of sustainability — to guide the process of what sustainability entails throughout Europe.
Last October, UEIL made the decision to integrate EuropaLub into the organisation. EuropaLub was the body producing statistics for the union, previously operating independently but with UEIL’s support. The incorporation of EuropaLub into UEIL is a significant change; UEIL is now directly responsible for delivering statistics for the industry, of paramount importance for the association’s interactions with different stakeholders.
Serra-Holm wants to continue to further develop the work done in this area producing “reliable, trustworthy industry statistics.” She says, the development and documentation of information on our industry is critical so we can “convey knowledge to our stakeholders.”
“The key success factor in all initiatives will be the continuous support from all the board and committee members that dedicate their time to the association. I am honoured to work with some of the most competent industry experts in Europe,” she says.