Profile: Manuel Guzman, President, CAS, A Division of the American Chemical Society

Mary Yost

Manuel Guzman has learned the most about leadership from bad examples.

Not many businesses start out with a worldwide focus, especially those that have been around more than a century. That is just one of the unique characteristics of CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society.

CAS also distinguishes itself by the globally recognized identifying numbers it assigns to known chemical substances, which now total more than 120 million and continue to grow exponentially. A CAS Registry number "is the social security number for chemistry," says the president of CAS, Manuel Guzman.

"My interpretation of it, (CAS) was a global business from day one because it was aggregating content from around the world. Once again unique, it wasn't a US domestic business per se from the start. It was a coming together of scientists around the world to contribute their information," he explains. "CAS created that unique identifier for the world of science. … So around the world, if somebody is going to refer to a substance, they will use terminology that originated right here in Columbus," he adds proudly.

Unique is a word you hear a lot from Guzman.

After three years leading the not-for-profit enterprise formerly known as Chemical Abstracts Services, Guzman is turning from his initial inward focus to raise external awareness of the enterprise that recently rebranded itself and wants to be known by its acronym-just as International Business Machines is simply IBM.

CAS was founded in 1907. It moved to the Ohio State University campus two years later and has remained nearby ever since. It was once known around Columbus primarily as the longtime lawn location for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra's summertime Picnic with the Pops concerts from their origin in 1983 until the concerts moved Downtown to Columbus Commons in 2012. Now CAS has begun hosting other community events on its 55 lush acres east of Olentangy River Road just north of Lane Avenue, such as the annual Steps for Sarcoma walk on a September Sunday.

What Guzman wants the business community to know is that CAS is eager to lend the creative thinking, knowledge and insights of its hundreds of Ph.D.s and scientists-plus another 2,000 contractors around the globe-to tackle problems that may not even be based in chemistry. Even better if they're not chemical issues, Guzman says, "because you eliminate the competitive aspect of any of this."

CAS began as an information publisher-and Guzman himself worked previously in publishing-but the organization has evolved, as many content publishers have, to become a solutions provider, he says. In addition to assigning ID numbers to chemical substances, CAS' first six or seven decades were spent collecting, curating and printing scientific papers-as implied by "Chemical Abstracts Services." With the digital revolution, Guzman says CAS was able to tap its expansive data to create workflow and other solutions far beyond just providing content.

"We're on a mission and we've kicked out six new products in the last 18 months or two years, so we're building new products, we're creating products, introducing CAS to different customer constituencies," Guzman notes.

"What we're doing here is very, very progressive. What we're doing here around the information sciences and what we're doing with data and the investments we're making on technology, and we're building software, we're building applications, is very, very progressive stuff," he says.

"To the extent through collaborative efforts, through knowledge-sharing, it gives us the opportunity to share something in exchange for learning something else from a partner in the business community, that would be great. … It may benefit their business differently than it benefits ours, but we can potentially both benefit from a shared level of commitment around thinking about these things," he adds.

Guzman entered the publishing world from an unlikely route, beginning with an undergraduate accounting degree, quickly followed by an MBA-both from Seton Hall University in his native New Jersey.

As he entered college, Guzman decided to explore accounting. "I'm somewhat analytical. Through that process I discovered I'd rather prefer to skew my career toward the financial side and leadership side more than the pure accounting side, so I went straight through business school and got an MBA."

His early opportunities for management and leadership happened to be with publishing companies. "My first job was in a professional information business for Prentice Hall that supported lawyers and accountants around the world, (publishing) detailed content solutions, basically ring binders of information that our editors would bring in and process and then disseminate out-very similar to this business model, quite frankly almost identical," he says.

After learning much in "tumultuous environments through mergers and acquisitions," Guzman began his own startup, Monument Information Resources, which he ultimately sold. Along the way, he recognized his passion was leadership, "so I rejoined the Thomson organization, initially in a senior financial role and then proceeded to take on general management and president's roles," he says.

At CAS, Guzman's "highly collaborative" leadership style is a product of what he learned in previous positions as to what works and what doesn't.

"Early on I'd seen some of the worst leaders you could see: New York City, East Coast command-and-control, dictator-type environments, very hard-driven. You could see the implications of that in an organization. Then I've been in other environments that have been a lot more progressive and collaborative. I took all those learnings and kind of formulated a style that's really, let's call it engagement," Guzman says.

Part of what makes it easier to engage CAS' 1,400 employees is the dedication and longevity of the workforce. "Our average years of service is close to 20 years, which is shocking," Guzman says.

When cancer is cured, when drinking water is made safer, when new sustainable energy sources are discovered, people who work there are confident CAS will have played a role in it, Guzman says.

"It makes it easy as a leader coming in here when improving people's lives through the transforming power of chemistry, that's what we do, and when you're not pointing to a quarterly report or a stockholder's meeting. It leads to this understanding amongst pretty much a majority of our population that what they're doing is for a greater good," Guzman says.

The CAS mission is tied directly to its parent, the American Chemical Society, which exists "to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people," as noted on the ACS website.

Guzman says the collective loyalty of staff is a defining characteristic for CAS. "They want to be here. They enjoy being here and they're proud of our brand and our mission, and that's unique to any other environment I've been a part of. … I think that loyalty, that commitment, that extended tenure is a characteristic that's been here for the whole hundred years."

One downside Guzman sees, though, is that some change is needed to move CAS into its future. "The skill sets needed to effect that change may not necessarily be inherent in the organization because folks have been here so long doing the same thing the same way. So the one fundamental change we are making is that we've significantly enhanced the diversity of activity that's occurring within the business," he says.

CAS already has an ethnically diverse workforce, with 50 languages spoken within its walls, Guzman says. Proximity to Ohio State and Battelle Memorial Institute has enabled it to more easily attract scientists and technologists from around the world, he adds.

"There's a history with Battelle, and our organization, but clearly, some of the things they're doing on the information side-we're all moving down this path of big data and analytics-clearly there's potential opportunity to either share resources or share knowledge," Guzman says.

About a quarter of the CAS workforce was educated at Ohio State, he says. And Battelle and CAS frequently hire each other's employees, he adds. "So on the talent side, we benefit from hiring (from) Battelle and they benefit from hiring our folks. Columbus has kind of created a hub of activity here that we're all benefiting from. … Between what we're doing; Battelle's doing, what's happening over at the university, the opportunities that exist with data in and around organizations like Nationwide-IBM has a facility up the road here related to their Watson activity-there's some real opportunity here."

Opportunities at CAS are growing. It is doing significant hiring, both to replace employees who are retiring as well as to move the organization forward. CAS also uses contractors for tasks such as coding and building next-generation products, as well as strategic thinking.

"They'll sit alongside longtime employees and together they can share knowledge and do knowledge exchanges that move us forward collectively. We're bringing strategists in at all levels to kind of help our leaders and our directors from their perspective on how you grow a business and what it means to be competitive in this new information solutions profile which we've cultivated here," Guzman says.

"The proximity to the university has created a scenario where we can relatively easily solicit global talent. One of our secret ingredients to this business is our global talent," he says. "So the proximity to the university, the scale of the university, has created this pipeline of global talent that this business benefits from, and quite frankly it's a barrier to … relocating, because to replicate that would be very difficult to do."

The nature of the work at CAS makes it especially important for it to be able to draw the talent it needs, Guzman says.

"I would say half our organization, probably about 60-70 percent, I would consider to be domain experts or knowledge experts; so either they're Ph.D. chemists or scientists specifically, or in the case of our technology organization, they're technologists with a high, high degree of domain familiarity. The other 30 percent or so are sales, marketing, finance folks, more generalists," he says.

The sophistication of the workforce tends to "insulate us at some level from competitive threats, because to cultivate that kind of mix takes a lot. If somebody wanted to compete with us, they'd have to go find and invest in a very sophisticated, world-class set of human capital resources and folks to replicate what we do, so it is kind of unique," Guzman explains.

Columbus has proved to not only be good for CAS but also for Guzman and his wife. Empty-nesters with children in college, the couple settled Downtown after Guzman became CEO three years ago.

"I think I hit it at the right time. I remember when we first came and actually went down in the center of town. It was quiet at night and empty on the weekends and there was some moderate construction. (Since then) the amount of construction taking place from Downtown right up to the university is incredible, and a lot is residential housing. A lot of my new neighbors now are folks who were selling their homes and decided they don't want to cut grass anymore and want to try living Downtown. It's actually a lot of fun," Guzman says.

He appreciates the city's ease of navigation. "You hear you can get everywhere in 15 minutes. That is true. I live Downtown, I work here. The only time I drive beyond 15-20 minutes is when my wife and I want to go exploring."

Columbus also suits Guzman from a recreational perspective. "The community has everything that some of the largest cities I've been around have had, whether the Twin Cities or in New York, in terms of culture activities, sporting activities, but it's accessible here. You can actually get to it, so if there's an event you want to see, you can get a ticket. If there's an outdoor event you can actually go to it and park," he says.

And someday, more of those events may be hosted by CAS. "We're proactively trying to understand how some of our physical assets can be leveraged to move the community along," Guzman says.

"We want to make sure we're holding up our end in the community and at the same time encourage folks who may have an interest to take a chance on us. We have some really good things happening here."

How have your first three years here progressed?

The first couple of years here, totally committed to really getting engaged in what I was brought here to fundamentally do, which is to help sustain this asset known as CAS for the American Chemical Society, and then getting the credibility and respect of our team. We've done some pretty good things over the last few years, and with that, the time has come now to start telling our story a little more externally, and me supporting that.

How do you describe the work of CAS?

This is a 100+-year-old publishing business at its most simplistic sense. … There was a gap in the aggregation of information in and around chemistry. So a couple of forward-thinking scientists got together … and it manifested itself into a business that fundamentally published that information for 60-70 years in a print-based format. So it's a content business/publishing business that got scaled because it uniquely aggregated this information around chemistry that could be leveraged by not only chemists but scientists and researchers around the world in academic as well as commercial settings.

Is there competition for what you do?

The ability to get some of our information in the public domain exists as an option. We differentiate ourselves by adding value to it,tools, workflow solutions and how we curate it with our scientists here to make it a higher value than just getting it from a free source.

What has changed under your watch?

I think the organization viewed itself as a content provider or traditional publisher. We quickly changed that perspective. We refer to ourselves now as an information solutions provider. Part of that value proposition we deliver could include content, could include technology services wrapped around that content. It could include analytics and interpretation of content for decision-making, or it can include human capital services where (if) you have a particular activity and you think it's more cost-effective for us to do it, we'll do it for you.

How do you approach your work?

It's not just having business success. It's having business success but at the same time having individual and professional success for all those involved.

Mary Yost is the editor.

Manuel Guzman


CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society

2540 Olentangy River Rd., Columbus 43202

In position: Since September 2013

Previous: Executive VP, Cengage Learning; President/CFO, Thomson Learning, Career & Professional Group; VP, Finance, Thomson Corporation; Co-founder, CEO, Director, Monument Information Resources; VP, Finance & Administration, Macmillan Inc.

Education: Seton Hall University, bachelor's, accounting; MBA, finance

Member: Columbus Partnership

Employees: 1,400

Registered unique chemical substances: 120 million+

Revenue: Three years' consecutive organic growth