13th Century Chinese philosopher, Confucius wrote: “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”
If anyone has embraced this philosophy, it is BASF’s Sales Team Lead for Performance Materials: East, West and Southern Africa, Elana de Goede. “Excellence drives me both in the workplace and in my personal life. I strive to always give my very best. Significance is important. It is important to know that I am making a difference. I always ensure that the task is challenging. I never want to stagnate. Admittedly, it puts a lot of pressure on me,” Elana explains.
Elana is a Polymer Scientist. “I knew that a career in Polymer Science offered job security and promising career opportunities. I also liked the fact that it is an applied side of Chemistry. We are surrounded by polymers. They are used in tyres, packaging materials, credit cards, eyeglass lenses, disposable diapers, shampoos, hairsprays, spandex clothing, parachutes, and Teflon for cookware. There will always be a demand for Polymer Scientists,” Elana informs.
In 1998 she enrolled for a BSc in Chemistry and Polymer Science at the Institute for Polymer Science, UNESCO Centre, University of Stellenbosch. She spent the next twelve years in academia. Elana completed a Ph.D. in Polymer Science through the University of Stellenbosch and also studied at the Deutsches Kunststoff Institut in Darmstadt, a city near Frankfurt, known as the “the city of Science,” and home to the Frankenstein Castle, which inspired the Gothic novel of the same name.
Her research for her Ph.D. included working on a project for Sasol; this exposure to the broader world of business proved life-changing. “I had a long career in academia, and I loved research. However, after completing my Ph.D. I was done with laboratories and wanted to work with people. After relocating to Johannesburg, I joined a small privately-owned company, Plastichem in February 2009,” Elana recalls.
She worked in Sales, then Product Management and was later offered the position of Head of Product Management. Eager to hone her business acumen she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration through the Gordon Institute of Business Science in 2015.
Elana joined BASF in October 2017. Her current role combines her love of applied Chemistry with her love of people. “I am still working in Chemistry, but I am really working with the people in the industry, rather than products. I have a technical equivalent within Performance Materials, and we have a close working relationship. I have the technical background and understand the chemistry of what we are doing. However, my real passion is working with customers, my team and my colleagues in Europe,” she reveals.
The Performance Materials Unit, which she heads up consists of a portfolio of engineering plastics and polyurethanes. The latter is used in the manufacturing of sandwich panels for insulation in building and refrigerated truck structures, footwear soles, mattresses and pillows, automotive seating, armrests and acoustic insulation parts. “Performance materials include high performing materials. We have the right products for very high technical specifications. We pride ourselves in the quality of our products. It is not a matter of simply recommending a product for an application and moulding it into a component. It requires substantial technical input both from Germany and the local technical team,” Elana observes.
Although polyurethanes will never be “entirely green”, BASF is at the leading edge in terms of low emissions developments: “This is where the concept of sustainability comes in. We are at the forefront of developing systems that comply with new stringent emissions requirements specified by all major automotive OEMs.
Elana is very proud of BASF’s track record for providing innovative solutions for the global war on plastic bags: “BASF produces a product that is bio-compostable. The market is still in its infancy, but there are pressures from retailers and this market will grow. Retailers and restaurant chains are increasingly rejecting single-use plastics because of its impact on the environment.”
BASF has impressed her as an employer: “I love the fact that BASF is truly global. The way in which the company taps into talent has also impressed me. Organisations typically slot their employees into a box based on their skills, work experience, and personality traits. BASF has a very different approach. BASF’s approach to talent management allows for and encourages employees to pursue opportunities beyond their current function in order to ensure continuous growth and development
Over the past decade, Elana has seen a great deal of change and innovation within Polymer Science. Both economic and environmental pressures and the ongoing search for lighter, stronger, more environmentally-friendly polymers will ensure that Polymer Scientists continue to play an important role in society.
It is impossible to predict what Elana will be doing career-wise in five years’ time: “My current position is quite challenging. In the short-term, I want to make this position the best I can, and then I would possibly be open to doing something different. I would consider a lateral shift to an alternative business unit within BASF; this is how I feel currently, but it could change.”
Her leisure activities include road and trail running. She has completed the Two Oceans and the Comrades Marathon. “Running is very sociable. One meets interesting people from a diversity of backgrounds. It is also a great stress reliever. It helps me clear my mind and also provides opportunities for me to set new goals,” she concludes.