Gallagher has had a varied career, despite spending so much of it at one company. He was already working for several years at JB Williams, the long-gone maker of Lectric Shave and other toiletries, when he received his BS in chemical engineering at the Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology). After three years at JB Williams, Gallagher moved on to Croda, starting as a formulating chemist.
“Croda had a reputation as an innovator even back then,” Gallagher recalled. “Graham Barker had a big influence on me and he was the person that I modeled my early career on.”
In 1980, Croda created a new position and promoted Gallagher to head of quality and assurance. The promotion also propelled him into management; from there, he moved on to sales for a couple of years before moving into marketing. There, he worked for Kurt Neulinger, whom Gallagher calls a “marketing genius.”
Animal or Vegetable?
Gallagher left the personal care industry briefly to serve as president of Croda’s automotive unit. Along the way, he went to New York University to get a better understanding of the financial side of the business. But he eagerly returned to personal care in 1990 as vice president of marketing—even if he was walking into a maelstrom. That’s because bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, had captured headlines around the world. It also captured consumer attention regarding animal-derived ingredients.
“At the time, Croda was the biggest producer of gelatin in the world; the BSE issue came down hard on all collagen and keratin suppliers,” Gallagher recalled. “It created a massive change in direction for us. We had to come up with plant-based alternatives.”
Croda was better positioned than most, as it also supplied oleochemical-based surfactants.
“We’re at the same point with renewables now,” Gallagher insisted. “More than two-thirds of energy for our Atlas Point (Delaware) facility comes from landfill gas. We also have a solar array there. If you look at our carbon footprint compared to our competitors, it is two-thirds lower per kilo of ingredient.”
Those moves, and others like it, demonstrate how suppliers are taking the lead on a variety of issues impacting industry. In fact, Gallagher insists that the shift in reliance to the supplier is the industry’s biggest single megatrend since he entered the business.
“The consumer product companies realize that their expertise is in branding, retailing and packaging,” he explained. “The performance and even the formulation work have migrated to the ingredient side.”
According to Gallagher, suppliers are called upon to supply performance claims, testing protocols and a host of other services—not that he’s complaining.
“We are more involved than ever. It would have been a dull career for me if that trend had not taken shape,” he told Happi. “Our work changes day to day. Now, we are delivering consumer insights to finished product companies.”
Dramatic changes have taken place on the finished product side of the business too during Gallagher’s career. He pointed to the rise of smaller, energetic brands that have found a home in Sephora, Ulta and Blue Mercury, not to mention online.
“The barriers to entry have come down,” Gallagher noted. “Startups are bypassing mass advertising on television and radio and reaching consumers on the internet.”
The barriers have come down in terms of manufacturing too. Today’s new players don’t need to invest millions of dollars into stainless steel and other hard assets; they can tap into the manufacturing power of contract manufacturers across the US and around the world. And, of course, Croda has been helping entrepreneurs and chemists at multinationals get their hands on some of the new most effective ingredients for better personal care formulations.
“The skin and hair care products of today are infinitely better than the ones that were available when I started my career,” Gallagher asserted, pointing out that Sederma’s lineup of peptides have applications in wound healing and skin care. Croda acquired Sederma in 1997.
“We’ve been part of the revolution and now these ingredients have moved from department store counters to mass market shelves,” he explained. “It’s all very exciting.”
Exciting developments are occurring in hair care, too, where today’s formulas can prevent damage and restore healthy hair, putting them light years ahead of what was available when his career started, Gallagher maintained.
Innovative ingredients will continue to propel the industry forward. Gallagher recalled that when Croda began working on detangling conditioners they were considered a niche product. Today, they can be found on every supermarket shelf.
“Niche marketing is alive and well. If you can reach the consumer, she’ll try it and say ‘Wow! This product was created just for me!’ that’s when she’ll reach into her wallet,” he said.
As long as innovative thinking drives decision-making, the beauty industry has limitless upside, according to Gallagher, who noted that anti-aging breakthroughs and sustainability come together through plant cell culture research.
“We can stress plants to make them produce more active material,” he explained. “Today, we don’t need acres and acres to grow plants, we can grow the actives in a petri dish using minimal resources. The ability to identify actives and source them through cultures is another revolution impacting industry.”
That type of innovation, according to Gallagher, dovetails with the two trends driving the business—product performance and sustainability.
“There’s an appreciation for future generations today,” he explained. “We must do things differently in sustainable ways.”
The future starts now with Sandra Breene, who will replace Gallagher on Jan. 1. Breene, who most recently was president of Croda’s crop and health care business, has been with Croda for 25 years and has served in a variety of capacities, including running the personal care business in Singapore.
“Sandra has been a key member of the personal care steering group,” noted Gallagher. “She is ideal to take over.”
He may be stepping down as CEO, but Gallagher will be keeping up with the global personal care industry. Kevin Gallagher Consulting LLC will be up and running on Jan. 1, where he’ll help companies, including Croda, develop strategies in the personal care space. He remains an independent director on the board of P2 Sciences, a renewable specialty chemicals firm. In addition, Gallagher remains on the chemical engineering advisory board at NJIT.
He and his wife Donna recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and have three children. He is president of Society of Telescopy, Astronomy and Radio (STAR). When he’s not stargazing or listening to jazz, Gallagher expects to devote more time to volunteer work—and keep up with the industry that he loves.
“I’ve spent time in other industries and this industry values, needs and thrives on innovation,” Gallagher noted. “I’d tell young people starting out just how lucky they are to be in this business. Whether on the ingredient or the consumer product side, it’s a great place to be whether you’re a chemist, biochemist or chemical engineer.”