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 SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J., May 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Innovation and creativity are the keys to any company's survival, but too many top managers lack the commitment and leadership to encourage creative thinking, according to Peter J. Neff, president and chief executive officer of Rhone-Poulenc Inc. (NYSE: RPU), U.S. subsidiary of Paris- based Rhone-Poulenc S.A., the seventh-largest chemical company in the world.
 "We in management are the big impediment to innovation," Neff said. "As creators of the culture and controllers of the corporate climate, we ultimately determine if innovation will survive and thrive or wither and die." He added that innovation and creativity are not confined to the research laboratory. "They're the ideas, big and small, that people have anywhere in the organization -- anywhere in the world -- about what they're doing and how to do it better," he said.
 Speaking to the annual meeting of the Chemical Management & Resources Association in Boston today, Neff underscored the necessity for corporations to keep up with the rapid pace of change of all kinds, from the collapse of communism to the rise of facsimile machines and electronic mail. "Change is all around us," he said, "creating discordance and disruption, but also creating new markets and greater opportunities, speeding communications and breaking down barriers we once thought insurmountable. Today, the pace of change is such that American institutions like GM and IBM have lost their heads, so to speak, to people who think differently than those who were their CEOs in the past."
 Neff pointed out that innovation can come in many guises -- by working across corporate or geographical boundaries, for example, or by having the courage to reject conventional wisdom, or simply by treating people as partners rather than adversaries. He cited several examples in Rhone-Poulenc's recent history that illustrated the value of approaching old problems creatively:
 -- For years, industry has been searching for ways to combat salmonella in chickens, mostly with various acidic compounds. Rhone-Poulenc eventually decided to discard the conventional wisdom and examine alkaline materials. The result was Avgard trisodium phosphate, which prevents salmonella without harming the taste and appearance of the chicken.
 -- Researchers in three different Rhone-Poulenc divisions in England, France and the United States contributed to a successful new "gel-in-a-bag" technology for handling agricultural pesticides. The chemicals come in gel form and are packaged in water-soluble bags, thus eliminating two traditional problems, accidental human exposure to the chemicals and costly disposal of containers.
 During the development of the gel-in-a-bag technology, Rhone-Poulenc worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, the technology was given rapid approval when it was ready for market. That approach -- seeking cooperation rather than confrontation -- is also paying dividends in environmental projects that the company is working on.
 "By taking a non-adversarial approach with the agencies -- keeping them fully briefed, taking numerous research steps to demonstrate alternative solutions -- we have been able to get to an innovative middle ground," Neff said.
 Neff said that Rhone-Poulenc Inc. seeks to foster creativity through its Total Quality Management process. "With its emphasis on the customer and its goal of continuous improvement, TQM will give us a firm footing for future growth," he said. "It will help us examine everything we do and encourage an atmosphere of openness and respect, creating a management approach that rewards risk-taking while it eliminates fear of mistake-making."
 To determine their own "IQ" -- Innovation Quotient -- Neff asked his listeners to answer five questions:
 -- Who gets promoted in your organization, people who preserve the status quo or those whose initiative might sometimes cause waves that rock the boat a little?
 -- What was the last good innovation you can think of in your organization? How was it recognized or rewarded?
 -- How much of an obstacle is the bureaucracy in your organization? In other words, how many approval hoops does someone with an innovative idea have to jump through before it's approved?
 -- How good are the schools, and how vital and creative are the communities that surround your facilities and are the sources of your future employees?
 How do you react when confronted with a new idea or an alternative solution to one that you've suggested?
 Neff has been president of Rhone-Poulenc Inc. since 1987. During his tenure, the U.S. company has grown from $700 million to more than $2 billion in annual sales. Today Rhone-Poulenc Inc. operates 56 facilities and employs some 8,000 people in the United States, manufacturing basic, agricultural and specialty chemicals.
 -0- 5/4/93
 /CONTACT: Arthur C. Benedict of Rhone-Poulenc, 908-821-3316/

CO: Rhone-Poulenc ST: New Jersey IN: CHM SU:

MK-MJ -- PH027 -- 4456 05/04/93 15:27 EDT
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Date:May 4, 1993

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