Paloma Alonso believes diversity is valuable to business as people bring their different perspectives to a challenge. As Dow Chemical Co.'s Latin America commercial vice president for packaging & specialty plastics, she brings both her technical background and a woman's perspective to business.
Alonso, 45, graduated with a mining engineering degree from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and went on to earn a master's in petrochemicals and plastics jointly from the French Oil Institute in Paris and McGill University in Montreal.
She brought her technical background to the plastics industry when she started with Dow in 1997 in plastics sales as an account manager in Spain. The next several years were a whirlwind of global management postings that included consumer electronics, polystyrene, polycarbonate and other plastic compounds, as well as feedstocks such as ethylene and butadiene.
In a phone interview from Dow's office in São Paulo, Alonso said her father was a key figure in her choice to enter the commercial side of plastics after getting an education in the technical aspects of the industry. Her father's background included management in global oil and petrochemical businesses and he thought his daughter could apply her technical knowledge to the sales side of a business career.
“It was a decision I made in only a few days,” Alonso recalled. “I remember that moment when I thought he had gone crazy to suggest sales.”
She chose the commercial side after internships as a researcher at resins makers Elf Atochem, Solvay and Dow.
“I knew that was my industry. It felt modern, vibrant, dynamic and full of opportunity.”
Her biggest challenge now is to develop and empower a young, high-performing team to “conquer the next layer of sustainable growth with our customers in a world that is changing exponentially and a society that wants to be aware.”
Alonso predicts the business world will become increasingly collaborative as customers and clients network globally in an “Uber-like” business environment. She recalls how in 2007 she led a far-flung team to land a multimillion dollar contract for sustainable thermoplastics in flat-screen televisions.
“Sharing business this way is fascinating,” she said. “It ultimately will be the way of doing business.”
Collaboration could be aided by a woman's perspective, Alonso explained. Women have potential to bring more fairness and value-driven strategies to the working world.
“I have come to believe the actual role of women in our increasing presence in business is precisely this one,” she added.
“The mere fact of another's perspective forces a team to think differently. More debate leads to better decisions.”