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Dow chief: we’re not a chemical company, we’re a science company

Light snow falls on the Dow Chemical Co. Michigan OperationsLight snow falls on the Dow Chemical Co. Michigan Operations
Dow Chemical signage.Photograph by Jeff Kowalsky — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nearly 120-year-old corporate giant Dow Chemicals is going through a massive transformation, according to CEO Andrew Liveris.

“We have been completely rewired,” Liveris said on stage at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen on Wednesday. He explained that when he took over as CEO ten years ago, he needed to reinvent the company, in fact, the entire chemical industry needed to be rebranded.

“We rediscovered innovation, and reinvention is very difficult,” he said.

The transformation included tweaking how R&D was done and by bringing in newer, younger talent. The average age of the Dow employee has gone from 51 to 41 in the past decade, and Liveris says that he’s on his fifth management team.

“I’m unabashedly stealing other people’s talent,” he said. “We’re hiring statisticians, roboticists, big data experts and data scientists.”

He continued: “We’re catching up to Silicon Valley.”

With R&D, Dow has narrowed its 40 university partnerships to 15 exclusive partnerships in which they company and school share technology tools. With these changes, Dow has gone from 20,000 experiments annually to 2 million. Last year, Dow launched 5,000 products, ten times the number from a decade ago. The average time of experimentation, from idea generation to commercial development, is now at a number of months versus seven years previously.

This innovation is translating to sales and partnerships. Under Armour (UA) approached Dow about creating a new rubber for the soles of athletic shoes. Dow (DOW) created the material in just three weeks, and is now creating materials for other parts of Under Armour’s shoes.

The company also hired a CTO outside of Dow who has rebuilt supply chains. The company is investing $500 million to rebuild and automate these processes.

“We’re 118 years young,” Liveris said.