BASF in Poland: cooperation, innovation, development. Interview with Katarzyna Byczkowska, Managing Director at BASF Polska

BASF in Poland: cooperation, innovation, development. Interview with Katarzyna Byczkowska, Managing Director at BASF Polska

BASF Polska is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Over the years, what events have turned out to be so-called milestones?

BASF Polska was established in 1992 and we have evolved in many areas over 30 years. Owing to the business strategy tailored to the needs of the Polish market and innovative solutions delivered to almost all sectors of Polish industry, our company reached a turnover of EUR 500 million as early as in 2010. In the following years, we have expanded our presence in Poland through the acquisition of Cognis (solutions for the cosmetics industry) in 2011. The year 2014 brought further development of the company’s production operations through the establishment of the largest BASF car catalyst production plant in Europe, in Środa Śląska near Wrocław. At the end of 2016, owing to the acquisition of Chemetall (a leading supplier in the field of chemical surface treatment), BASF further significantly expanded its business presence in Poland. In recent years, the BASF Polska team has grown two-fold. Nowadays, the company employs close to 750 employees, and the value of its sales for 2021 amounted to EUR 1,412 million. In terms of business growth, we also do not forget to develop activities aimed at society by implementing the company’s educational strategy – we have been working with the Copernicus Science Centre for over 10 years, and we are implementing educational programmes with many universities in Poland.

What are your plans for the years to come? Currently, as the economic situation is changing so dynamically, is it still possible to plan long-term strategies?

For many years, our global strategy has been to create chemistry for sustainable development. Globally and locally, we are focusing on the creation and implementation of innovative products that comply with this strategy, regardless of the challenges faced by our economic situation. Our plans focus, among others, on solutions for the circular economy or the goal for zero emissions. BASF supports the objectives of the European Green Deal and Europe’s ambitions towards climate neutrality by providing innovations such as insulating materials for energy-efficient homes, materials for electromobility, and digital solutions for sustainable agriculture.

Climate protection is an important element of BASF’s development strategy, increasingly more investors and financial institutions select organisations that operate in line with the ESG recommendations as their partners. What is BASF doing for the climate, local communities and diversity?

On our way towards climate neutrality, we have set ambitious goals and we aim to achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050. By the year 2030, we intend to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 25% compared to 2018 globally. Use of new technologies that will replace fossil fuels, such as the transition from natural gas to electricity from renewable sources underlies this long-term process. The majority of these technologies are being developed by BASF together with partners and are currently at the stage of pilot tests or first implementations. Widespread use of these technologies will be fully feasible only after 2030. To accelerate the process of reducing CO2 emissions before this deadline, BASF continues to systematically implement optimisation projects in its manufacturing facilities. Additionally, BASF will gradually switch to renewable sources to meet its energy needs. The company is investing in wind farms and photovoltaic farms, which can already satisfy up to 20% of the energy needs of BASF factories.

One of the most important new technologies currently being developed by BASF worldwide are electrically heated steamcracker units. These steamcrackers play a key role in the production of basic chemicals and require significant amounts of energy to break down hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatic substances.

At BASF, we also have a number of projects aimed at ‘closing the cycle’ so that waste can be transformed into raw materials and reused. Our local success is the introduction of ecovio® M biodegradable film used in field vegetable production to the Polish market. Its key advantage is compostability. Unlike traditional polyethylene films, it does not need to be collected from the field and disposed of. After the production season, it is completely biodegradable. Ecovio® is also used in other sectors of the economy, e.g. in the production of food packaging, including fruit and vegetable bags or bio-waste bags.

Recycling of used tyres and their processing into pyrolysis oil is a project that BASF Polska has made its own contribution to and one we can produly boast of. It is part of a larger chemical recycling project called ChemCycling™, developed with our partners in 2018.

It is worth noting that BASF intends to invest over EUR 4 billion in these innovations and research in sustainability by 2030, which clearly demonstrates that, in addition to the set strategy, the company has already secured a significant budget for this purpose.

As part of ESG activities, we also focus on corporate social responsibility. The pillar here is educational activity, which we have conducted with partners such as the Copernicus Science Centre or the Warsaw University of Technology for many years. We also support local communities at sites where our business operates. Starting with financial or product assistance, e.g. in the COVID pandemic, ending with charity activities, e.g. supporting people from Ukraine after the outbreak of the war in that country.

Diversity is a significant value, permanently embedded in the global strategy of BASF. By 2030, BASF intends to increase the ratio of women in management positions to 30 percent worldwide. Meanwhile, the global goals have already been achieved, and women account for almost half of the management structure at BASF Polska.

We are an employer that actively takes action in the work environment to counteract discrimination due to sex, origin, physical fitness, sexual orientation or religion. In 2020, we signed the Diversity Charter coordinated by the Responsible Business Forum, thus expressing our support for the idea of diversity in the workplace, emphasising the relevance of this issue among current and future employees.

To be an important player for so many years, we need to constantly develop, improve and optimise both production processes and the products themselves. How much do you focus on R&D activities?

In the modern economy, research and development are a key condition for innovation. At BASF, the R&D department has long been one of the most important ones, and it currently employs nearly 10,000 employees worldwide, or more precisely 9% of all BASF employees! It is these employees who, often together with scientific or business partners, work on sustainable solutions for our clients. We leverage the growing opportunities that digitisation and supercomputing power also provide us with. We are a world leader in research and development of the chemical industry. Owing to more than 150 years of history of innovation, global presence and the philosophy of Verbund (integrated production plants), we strive to set an example not just in the chemical industry. Our goal is to unlock the potential of chemicals to solve some of the most pressing challenges in the world, such as sustainable food supply, e-mobility, circularity of products and the reduction of CO2 emissions.

You are one of the few women in Poland who is in charge of such a large corporation, which additionally represents the industrial sector. This is quite an achievement, given the fact that as much as 80 percent of leadership positions are currently held by men. What does the work of the President of BASF Polska look like in practice? What challenges does it entail?

As mentioned earlier, diversity is part of our global strategy at BASF. At BASF Polska, I work with a team of managers, almost half of whom are women. Being the president of a chemical company poses the same challenges for me as for the presidents of other chemical companies: for example, responding to the needs of the market and national or European regulations. Looking back from the perspective of a person managing a company of over 700 people, the challenge is to manage such a team, listen to the needs of employees and respond to them, or observe the labour market in demanding times, such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

There have already been 2 editions of the ‘Chemistry is a Woman’ campaign initiated by BASF. What was the origin of this campaign?

On 8 March, 2021, on International Women’s Day, we decided to contribute to the fight against stereotypes related to the perception of the chemical industry as not very ‘feminine’. The ‘Chemistry is a Woman’ campaign was to help in this respect. It showed the profiles of 8 women working at BASF, often viewed stereotypically – the so-called male positions. The campaign aims to encourage women to take up challenges, to boldly pursue their dreams, including those related to a less popular or obvious career path. The second edition of the campaign presented Polish women who made a global career in BASF structures, and the third edition is upcoming. We have invited our clients and we will also present the results of the ‘Women in the chemical industry’ report.

The world needs smart and good leaders who want to have a positive impact on their communities. What does responsible leadership mean to you?

In my opinion, responsible leadership is one in which it is important to see the through the prism of responsibility understood as cause and effect. It is development not only in the personal dimension, but in the context of inspiring others and sharing knowledge. It means putting theory into wise practice. The word ‘responsible’ naturally also points to the area of sustainable development, and a modern leader should know that a change towards responsible and climate-friendly business is currently a necessity.

Katarzyna Byczkowska, Managing Director BASF Polska. Graduate of Wrocław Univesity of Technology (chemical engineering processes) and Calgary University (MBA studies). She has spent 10 years in DOW Chemical on various positions in Warsaw and London.Katarzyna has started BASF career in 2005 in UK as a Head of Sales for UK & Nordics. Next 2 years Mrs.Byczkowska spent in Ludwigshafen (BASF Headquarter) and following years (2008-2012) in Warsaw on the position of Head of Sales for EUC &
Russia.In 2013-2017 she has been delegated to Spain as a Vice President,Sales & Regional Market Development Iberia. And finally in 2017-18 Mrs.Byczkowska came to Vienna to work as a Head of Controlling and Projects for Central Europe.After coming back to Poland (May 2018) Katarzyna Byczkowska started her job as a Managing Director BASF Polska which is still one of the largest BASF
legal entities in Europe. Currently BASF Polska has almost 750 employees and sales figures of 1 412 million EUR in 2021.

Last Updated on November 4, 2022 by Anastazja Lach