2020 CEOs Who 'Get It'

2020 CEOs Who "Get It"
2020 CEOs Who Get it
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Sean D. Keohane

Sean D. Keohane

President and CEO
Cabot Corp.


  • Actively participates in incident reviews and expects everyone to fully understand causes and take corrective actions that bear results, to drive Cabot to continue on the path of improvement.
  • Works with regional and facility personnel in the review of incidents that result in lost workday injuries.
  • Shares the direction in which he is taking the company for the business and SH&E, then encourages questions. Makes time and listens to front-line workers, takes time to reflect, and provides status feedback on the changes that are being made.

Cabot Corp. is a leading global specialty chemicals and performance materials company that has delivered innovative solutions to customers for more than 135 years. It is a leading provider of rubber and specialty carbons, activated carbon, inkjet colorants, masterbatches and conductive compounds, fumed silica, and aerogel. Cabot employs 4,500 workers.


Why is safety a core value at your organization?

As a leading global performance materials and specialty chemicals company, we understand the role that we play in leading and setting an example in our industry. Our employees are our most valuable asset, and it is our responsibility as an employer to provide a safe work environment and promote wellness across the workforce. This focus on health and safety has been deeply ingrained in our company throughout our history and serves as a central theme in our culture. Our goal is for all employees to return home in the same condition as when they arrived at work. We also strive to help employees lead healthy lifestyles through a variety of initiatives and benefits. We believe that a strong safety culture contributes to the overall success of our business. It allows us to retain talent, remain operational and serve our customers as a reliable partner. We have come to recognize that excellence in safety translates into excellence in all operational areas of our company. As a result, we are diligent in measuring and monitoring our related performance. We continue to pursue excellence in occupational health and safety to better protect our employees, contractors, neighbors and the environment.


Describe your personal journey to becoming a CEO who “gets it.” What experiences or lessons brought you to where you are now?

I firmly believe that all workplace injuries are preventable. Throughout my career, I’ve had the benefit of learning from great mentors and witnessing the value of safety-oriented workplaces. I learned a long time ago from one of my mentors that safety comes down to three things: attitude, awareness and execution. Are we bringing the right attitude to work each day and holding all of our team members to that same standard? What are we doing to constantly raise the awareness of hazards in the workplace? And finally, are we following the procedures that the company has laid out to safeguard our health? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, the likelihood of injuries is significantly reduced.

Having worked at Cabot for the past 17 years and traveled to our sites around the world, I know that our people are capable of operating safely and responsibly, and I am proud of the many sites in our network that have gone multiple years without a recordable injury. As CEO, it is my responsibility to make safety our top priority as a company.

Safety, health and the environment, along with site security, are critical components of our culture. As part of our Drive to Zero initiative, we have set a long-term goal of having no injuries at our facilities worldwide. To help meet this goal, we provide training to all employees on safety procedures that meets or exceeds all applicable government regulations and internal standards. We hold ourselves accountable to demonstrate our company values and continuously improve the way we operate.


What is the biggest obstacle to safety at your organization, and how do you work to overcome it?

As I mentioned before, I firmly believe that obstacles to a safe workplace can be attributed to one of the following: attitude, awareness and execution. A key factor in keeping employees safe at our manufacturing facilities is our careful attention to process safety. Each of our facilities is required to develop and implement a safety program that upholds the SH&E policy and meets all applicable health and safety laws, as well as our company standards. This program provides oversight for all direct activities occurring in our facilities and within our operational control, including those that could impact employees, contractors and visitors.

As part of our commitment to Responsible Care, we are focused on continuously improving the safety of our products and processes. We report our performance metrics annually and undergo external audits regularly to evaluate our program, identify gaps and undertake corrective actions as needed. In addition to the Responsible Care audits, our sites routinely undergo robust internal SH&E audits, which evaluate procedures, practices and site conditions in accordance with SH&E regulations, internal company standards and industry-recognized best practices. In the event of a process safety incident or high-potential near miss, a thorough incident evaluation is conducted to understand the root cause of the issue and assess how we may implement measures to avoid similar safety risks in the future. We share the results of these evaluations globally, so all our sites can learn from the event and reduce similar risks.


How do you instill a sense of safety in employees on an ongoing basis?

To be successful in our safety goals, it is critical that our employees feel a sense of purpose and ownership in fostering a safe workplace. At Cabot, we pride ourselves on having an accountable, safety-oriented workforce. Each member of our team understands their individual responsibility, whether they are in an office setting or a higher risk manufacturing environment. We review safety performance metrics with our employees in each facility around the globe on a regular basis.

Since 2008, we have celebrated Global Safety Day each year by taking the time to recognize our accomplishments and reaffirm our “Drive to Zero” and SH&E commitments. During Global Safety Day, our employees at each site around the world organize safety and sustainability-oriented activities to help educate their colleagues and remind us of the importance of safety. This day has built ownership and accountability throughout our network, and we have made significant progress as a result. We’ve recently expanded Global Safety Day to be Global Sustainability Day, maintaining our focus on safety, but expanding to underscore our commitment to all aspects of sustainability.


How does your organization measure safety? What are the leading indicators that show you how safe your organization is, and where do you see room for improvement?

As a company, we track metrics such as total recordable incident rate, lost time and process safety events. In 2018, we undertook a project to refresh our approach to process safety management so that we may better track our performance and identify opportunities for improvement in our program. We carefully track process safety events, and we conduct a thorough evaluation of every incident, including “high-potential near misses,” to understand the root cause of such incidents and assess how we can implement measures to avoid similar safety risks in the future across our global operations. Throughout the years, these incident learnings and our strong safety culture have kept us an industry leader in safety performance.

Although we are an industry leader, I believe even one injury is too many. We will always focus on continuous improvement to achieve our goal of zero incidents across all our facilities. We remain focused on this commitment, learn from every incident that does happen and employ industry leading SH&E best practices to keep our employees as safe as possible.


What role does off-the-job safety play in your organization’s overall safety program? What types of off-the-job safety and health programs does your organization offer to employees?

Caring for our employees includes more than just keeping them safe at work. Our commitment to caring for our people extends beyond workplace safety to include the well-being of our employees, communities and environment. Cabot offers comprehensive health and wellness benefits for our employees and their families. The benefits vary based on region, but include competitive health and well-being benefits, financial resources and work-life programs. We are also committed to being a responsible corporate citizen and a good neighbor. We give back to the communities in which we operate, minimize our impact on the environment and, overall, strive to be a company our employees are proud to work for.


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