Talent Profile : Kumarasen (Kay) Govender, BASF Head of Environment, Safety and Quality for Africa
Making a difference
by Carol Butcher
Every company has different risks. Managing these risks effectively enables business to develop and grow. “In our industry safety, health and environmental risks are important. Poor quality is also a big business risk. Therefore, making sure that our customers get the right quality product and service level is a significant and value-adding component of this job.” says BASF Head of Environment, Health, Safety, and Quality for Africa, Kumarasen (Kay) Govender.
Kay has been in this position for the past six months: “I am a chemist by trade. I completed a BSc degree in Pure and Applied Chemistry, and I started work in laboratories, doing mainly product development in emulsion polymerization”. Realising that he wanted varied experience in his career development, Kay completed his MBA and started to work more in the sales and business environment, eventually managing a chemical manufacturing plant as well as playing a critical role in the establishment and management of a greenfields BASF plant in Durban.
Realising a need to build and maximise synergies around operational excellence Kay was asked to take on a manufacturing community role, where, through his collaborative approach, he started to connect BASF plants across Africa. His successes in this role has resulted in him being asked to take over EHSQ (Environmental, Health, Safety and Quality) for BASF.
Kay is driven by an understanding that his daily work involves keeping people safe and healthy, creating an enabling environment for people to do their work and contribute to building BASF. Kay adds that “a large part of the job also involves minimizing the company’s impact on the environment and this is something that makes you feel good, knowing that we are acting responsibly by doing as much as possible to protect the environment for future generations – it gives the job meaning.”
BASF takes Environment, Health, Safety and Quality very seriously and it has the resources to back this up: “Everything we produce, from start to finish takes EHSQ into account. We always consider energy minimization in our processes as well as try to ensure that the wastes we produce are minimal and handled in a manner that has little or no impact on the environment.. Our role essentially is to take care of people, property, and the environment whilst ensuring economic success. All of this is encapsulated in our “Sustainability” concept.”
For Kay BASF’s claim – “We create chemistry” is not only about creating chemicals that people need, “It is much more than that, its about finding innovative ways to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges”. Kay sees BASF playing a meaningful role in creating chemistry for a sustainable future. The worlds resources are finite, yet our demands continue to grow, being part of an organisation that seeks to solve these challenges is extremely rewarding.. We want to contribute to a world that provides a viable future with enhanced quality of life for everyone. “These challenges keep me excited.” says Kay
Environment, Health, Safety and Quality can sometimes be viewed as a policing job since one attempts to keep people safe by enforcing rules. Kay sees the role very differently: “We see ourselves as business enablers. If people are safe, if the environment and people’s health is taken care of, and if high levels of quality pervade your systems, then business gets naturally better. If someone gets hurt, then business has to stop while we investigate . If there is an accident with one of our trucks or an incident at one of our production plants, that will inevitably result in business interruptions. Our job is to put systems in place that prevent this from happening.”
Kay believes that people are starting to understand the critical role that Environment, Health, Safety and Quality plays in their day-today jobs, and that as a result they are becoming more supportive of its objectives and the measures necessary to reach these. Kay believes that people are an organisation’s greatest asset: “I know it’s a cliché but it is so true, if you believe in your people, the best will come out of them”. The strong performance culture at BASF is supported by people like Kay who create the the right environment for this culture to thrive. Kay believes that the right environment will result in someone reaching their maximum potential. “There is talent in everyone” he says.
He has a participative leadership style: “I always find that I learn new perspectives by involving all stakeholders. Taking on different roles requires me to learn very quickly. The only way one can do this is to trust one’s team to provide the skill and knowledge, and this collaboration results in maximum effect.” To his mind, good interpersonal skills are critical in any role, and especially in a compliance role: “You can be an enforcer and threaten people and then expect people to follow the rules, but that is a short-term approach. Unless you can convince people that it is the right thing to do you are not going to make this a permanent part of their reality.”
Working with people from different backgrounds and cultures has only added to his experience at BASF. “The world’s borders have more or less disappeared, especially within BASF. We have people from all over the world working here. Diversity is a great strength if we utilise it properly. I always tell people to keep an open mind and adapt to your circumstances.”
Kay believes a healthy work-life balance is a prerequisite for good performance in the workplace. His leisure activities include listening to music and watching action movies. He walks/runs with his wife and they both enjoy reading. He particularly enjoys reading about technology and how the world is changing. He has also started to read more about the spiritual, but not religious, aspects to life; this has helped him get “a better feel for life.”