Adam Larkin, 34
Senior Manager, Program Management, Celanese Engineered Materials
Adam Larkin graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering with polymer engineering option and from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a master's degree and doctoral degree in chemical engineering.
He first joined the plastics industry as a research engineer at Celanese of Florence, Ky., in the Technology and Innovation Leadership program. "I was interested in plastics because my high school AP Chemistry teacher indicated it was a good field of study. He told me to 'go walk down the grocery store or construction store aisles and see how much of it is made of plastic.' After I did that, my friend and I would spend hours in the aisles looking at plastics and recycling codes before we went away for undergraduate studies," said Larkin, now the senior manager, program management.
Larkin said his career has progressed rapidly from research engineer to commercial roles, team leadership and new business development. He said he takes every opportunity to expand his network and knowledge base "through project work and newly defined roles in the organization."
"My career is still beginning, however, as an application development engineer and leader, our team has had many successful projects, from drinking water to defense and space-related designs with our resins," Larkin said. "My greatest achievement to date is leading a group or team to rally around a project with a positive economic and human ROI. I have two specific instances but will not comment until they have reached full commercialization."
Larkin said his current challenge in new business development is balancing the needs of Celanese's existing portfolio and base business while also exploring new and upcoming markets.
"In a resource-constrained environment, this means we need to identify how to maximize impact with the products we have while leveraging the remaining resources to focus on new products and disruptive technologies," he said. "Additionally, in a technology-disruptive world, we have to contribute resources to exploring new ideas and approaches to problem-solving in plastics. Ultimately, this is how you build the new base business that we will be counting on in years to come."
Larkin has been awarded the Commercial Newcomer Award in 2017 by Celanese and Macromolecular Interfaces with Life Sciences Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, funded by the National Science Foundation, 2009-12 at Virginia Tech.
Larkin is a member of the Association of Rotational Molders, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and Society of Plastics Engineers. He enjoys the outdoors: hunting, fishing, golfing, camping and long-distance running.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Larkin: My grandfather, Robert Guy Larkin. He taught me, through his actions, to get up and work hard every day. He told me all the time "work hard but go to college so you can work smart." I took that to heart and became one of the first in my family to get a college degree. I broke the five-generation tradition of being a carpenter, but I am glad they still left me with enough know-how to fix my house when something breaks.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Larkin: Listen. Before you can transform and inspire positive change, you must know the pressures on the business, your colleagues and your customers. Once you have a good understanding on the challenges and opportunities, you are in an educated position to begin working with your colleagues to transform the business.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Larkin: The amount of opportunity that exists to convert or design in plastics never shrinks. Every global megatrend can be linked back to work we do in plastics, from sustainability to aging population. There are very few industries that can have a wide-ranging scope and impact.
Q: What is your philosophy related to plastics and sustainability? What steps have you taken to improve plastics' sustainability, either in work, your community or personal life?
Larkin: I like to think of the molecular brand our materials have. Where do you want your molecular brand to end up at the end of its serviceable life? Landfill, on the side of the road, or recycled into something with additional utility.
As a result, I have worked on projects to implement recyclable content and generate new products with desirable properties that have more bio-based content or are biodegradable. As we position products, we can educate on the full life cycle of these materials and collect industry trends and knowledge to make sure we are developing the right product mix to address our sustainability objectives.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Larkin: If you are going to build a career in plastics, try to get a look at it from many different perspectives. From the technical, manufacturing, commercial and customer support angles, consider how what you work on will be touched, held, used by the various end consumers and participants along the value chain. If this is interesting and spurs your thoughts, then this is the place to be! Also, find several good mentors and learn as much as they will tell you!