Passing the torch
When M. Scott Crocco, MBA ’90, first interviewed with Air Products in 1990, he could hardly have imagined that 23 years later he would succeed his interviewer, Paul Huck, MBA ’79, as Air Products’ senior vice president and chief financial officer (CFO).
Looking back at that interview, Crocco recalls, “I was Paul’s first interview of the day. My background at that time involved working at General Electric in a program called Manufacturing Management Program, and I leaned on that as my premier experience.” Just when Crocco was about to walk Huck through his experiences at GE, Huck said unexpectedly: “I know about that program, tell me – what else do you got?”
“That pushed me to go beyond the basics that I was going to take him through,” says Crocco. “Over the next 23 years, he continued to push me and the company to go beyond that initial offering and to push us for ‘what else you’ve got.’”
Unlike some other companies where the CEO is the principle point of contact with the investment community, Air Products entrusts to its CFO responsibility for managing investor relationships, says Huck. Referring to Huck’s achievements as CFO, Crocco praises him for bringing “external perspective from the investment community” to the leadership team.
Huck also established cash priorities, a discipline that Crocco plans to carry on. “[We will continue to] spend cash first on projects that have good returns and are in our core business, increase our dividends, strive to maintain an ‘A’ fund rating, and with the excess cash, buy back shares,” says Crocco.
Air Products’ clients span the globe and represent a wide range of industries, from food and beverage, health and personal care to energy, transportation and semiconductors. The company is actively expanding its client base in emerging markets, and is particularly proud of new contracts and projects in China.
“The biggest challenge the industrial gas industry has now is how well we address the Chinese market, [where] there are a lot of opportunities for growth,” says Huck. Another challenge: the uncertainties inherent in today’s global economic environment. Since 2008, the ability to predict has been extremely difficult, but decisions still have to be made, says Huck.
To address these challenges, Crocco believes that Air Products needs to “understand what our strengths are and focus on the areas that we can win and add value to our customers and shareholders.”
As the new CFO at Air Products effective March 1, Crocco manages the company’s financial functions, including controllership, accounting, decision support, treasury, risk management, taxes, and internal audit. He appreciates having worked in each of Air Products’ major businesses and established relationships with people across the company. “It’s very important to understand the business itself, not just financials,” he says.
Relationship-building comes naturally to Crocco, who remarks on “a similar culture between Air Products and Johnson.” Both have “a team-oriented and collaborative environment that promotes everybody’s success,” he says.
“Johnson has been the best school we recruit at in the past few years,” says Huck, noting Johnson’s success in teaching students how to apply theory to practice. That ability helped him apply his knowledge immediately after joining Air Products, he says. Now, more than a dozen Johnson graduates work at Air Products, and internships provide hands-on opportunities for Johnson students to learn about its finance operations.
“The proudest achievements in my career are the people and the strong financial function I left at Air Products,” says Huck. Now, with Crocco in place, he is focusing his energies serving on the boards of a local hospital and a scholarship foundation, as well as on Johnson’s Advisory Council. And he’s enjoying spending more time with his family, including his three grandchildren.