Global application development leader, Dow Chemical Co.
Amaia Montoya, 43, is a global application development leader for Dow Chemical Co. in Freeport, Texas. Born in the Basque region of Spain, she brings both a passion for science and an international background to her work.
The scientist speaks five languages — Spanish, Basque, English, French and Dutch (her husband's family is from the Netherlands) — and “a bit” of German. Montoya has a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry from the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland, and a bachelor's degree from the same university, and a licenciatura in polymer chemistry from the University of the Basque Country, in San Sebastian, Spain.
Montoya has spent her entire career at Dow, first in the Netherlands and then, since 2012, in Texas, in a variety of research and application development roles across several polymers. She's currently global application development leader for a new family of Dow products and is active in the Society of Plastics Engineers, where she is technical committee chair for the 2016 Antec, to be held in late May in Indianapolis.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Montoya: My first plastics job was in polycarbonate R&D, developing resins to make CD and DVDs. It was a great opportunity for somebody just out of university to see how the theoretical principles that I studied at university were applied to something so common in everybody's life.
Q: What has been your greatest achievement professionally?
Montoya: By using materials science principles and fundamental understanding of the material, I was able to develop a polypropylene resin that was very successful and grew very fast, delivering great value to Dow and our customers as it allowed them to process faster and save in energy and cycle time. The connection of fundamental science and very practical application was a great achievement.
Q: And how about your biggest failure, and what did it teach you?
Montoya: We had a great new offering that Dow wanted to introduce into the market. We only looked at it from Dow's eyes and we thought we had the best thing ever. It didn't pick up, because we were not listening to the market. That taught me to look at my projects not from Dow's perspective only, but from our customers' perspective. And listen with open ears to what customers and the market mean and need, not what they are saying literally.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Montoya: I am in new business development, where we are trying to find new application areas for new products, which implies that one needs to look not only at the market as it is today, but how it could be if the new technology was to be adopted. As you go into the market with a new solution, articulating it into a language that is relevant is tough. The rewards are huge, but the challenge is equally huge.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Montoya: In this moment the technology that goes into plastics recycling is fascinating. You don't realize the great advances in materials handling, analytical techniques and materials science that are needed to take full advantage of all the energy we are putting into recycling the plastic.
Moreover, in the 15 years I have worked for the plastics industry, both food and industrial goods packaging has changed considerably.
There is lots of lightweighting going on and design advances to make life easier and more sustainable. When I go to the supermarket, I can't help but turn packages upside down to see what polymer they are using, to see what process they use. It is fascinating the technical solutions that are out there for such simple items that we use and throw away.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Montoya: The poor image that the plastics industry has for the general public and the great impact that plastics has in everyday life.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Montoya: A mentor/coach of mine, a senior technical leader, once advised me to “consider what makes you different from everybody else, and why would I want to work with you. Think about that and make sure I know about it! Work on those attributes and talents where you are good at and become excellent at them.”
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Montoya: Listen twice as much as you speak! At the personal career level, the advice I got that has served me well — think about what are you good at, what you like and be excellent at it.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Montoya: A technical leadership job that brings fundamental technical leadership and aligns it to business vision. It is really exciting when fundamental science helps you resolve an everyday relevant problem and you make money with it!
Q: What do you do to relax?
Montoya: I love travelling and photography. I take a long vacation every year and make millions of photos that I enjoy organizing into stories along the year. When I was in the Netherlands, in the winter time, and now in Texas during the summer time, I like to spend my time in the house restoring old furniture and redecorating the house. I am an avid reader also, so I get lots of adventures from the comfort of my sofa!