Hassan Riaz, 25
Technical Service Specialist, Nova Chemicals Corp.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Hassan Riaz and his family moved to Canada when he was 2 years old. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and started working for Calgary, Alberta-based polyethylene maker Nova Chemicals Corp. in 2018 as a technical service specialist.
Riaz is a member of the Association of Rotomolders, Industrial Packaging Alliance of North America and subcommittees, Rigid Intermediate Bulk Container Association and Plastic Drum Institute. He has been a panelist and presenter at ARM's regional and annual meetings.
He said speaking at his first ARM conference in 2019 has been his greatest accomplishment. He attended his first ARM conference in Montreal — when he was just out of school and working for Nova for five months — and watched his co-worker and mentor present to more than 300 molders.
"Watching him confidently speak to an audience with over decades of experience, I couldn't help but feel impressed yet also intimidated. However, one thing that always stuck out to me is him pointing to me afterwards and mentioning that my time to present will come soon," he said.
One year later, Riaz was the one on stage in Houston, speaking "on an exciting simulation capability we developed at Nova to help rotomolders across North America," he said.
"At the very beginning of the year in January," Riaz said, "we realized that there was a Rotomolding market need for modeling and predicting the Rotomolding process through numerical and analytical programs.
"As an aspirational project, I took on the role of surveying the landscape of commercially available simulation platforms and leveraging those capabilities with our customers. We found great value and success, and I excitedly shared those results at ARM 2019," he said. "Additionally, the presentation was so well received I was invited to publish a technical industry article in RotoWorld magazine."
With previous experience in the oil and gas industry, Riaz said the plastics industry initially was not on his radar. After finding more about Nova, he said the misconceptions and challenges around sustainability are "the biggest opportunities for collaboration and problem-solving."
"Our industry is often considered quite mature, but whenever there are fresh problems and fresh developments, it signals that the industry is still evolving and growing, and it is exciting to be a part of that," he said.
Outside of work, Riaz enjoys hip-hop and street-style dancing, running, cooking, hiking and playing board games.
Andie Stiles, Nova marketing communications manager, nominated Riaz for Rising Stars.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Riaz: It's around leveraging simulation capabilities, which are an emerging technology. We want to explore the tools in the market today and expand our simulation support capabilities to help our customers. Mainly, this involves understanding and brainstorming the issues and opportunities our customers face, comparing that to commercially available modeling platforms and then translating that to a vision or scope that Nova Chemicals should take on. It is very challenging because it is not just a new-to-Nova project but a new-to-industry challenge, which requires exploring and understanding emerging technology in industry and being a leader in the field.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Riaz: "Always ask questions and think critically every day. If you're not making an earnest attempt at growing your knowledge every day, then you are being willfully ignorant." This was told to me by one of my favorite professors in university who I ended up doing research with and helped mentor me during my undergrad degree and pivotal years. It might not be the most profound or unique advice, but that does not underscore its importance and value in my development. Besides helping me connect new pieces of information to my existing foundation of knowledge, it enables me to take on new tasks and not shy away from the unknown. It allows me to embrace change, to think critically on how things work and not shy away from problems. Those who are not afraid of those problems can be leaders in the industry, especially in "key problems" we are all working to solve such as sustainability.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Riaz: Be prepared to make connections and network with all members and groups of the supply chain. From suppliers such as ourselves, to converters, brand managers, equipment manufacturers, mold makers… the list goes on and on. Everyone here is working together to make the next person down the line's job easier, and understanding what each segment values or struggles with is paramount to building a cohesive value chain. Particularly, it forces you to ponder the question, "What would be my role in supporting this value chain, and how can I elevate my role to best support those around me?" Through connections, you can listen and learn and through listening and learning, you can grow your role and experience to best position yourself to succeed.
Q: What steps have you taken to advance in your career?
Riaz: Within my organization, I have taken and initiated projects to explore novel and new-to-Nova fields, such as PE foaming in rotational molding and process simulation in rotational molding. I have leveraged my project leadership experiences in those projects at customer events and conferences to establish my subject matter expertise in those areas and become more actively sought after.
In addition, I have received formal technical training in rotational molding at the Pennsylvania College of Technology as well as large part blow molding with customer partners. On a software level, I have been self-teaching myself in mold tools with SolidWorks for working with mold files and other software platforms such as DesignExperts and RotoSim (for rotational molding modeling).
On a broader note, I actively look to gain leadership experience through presenting on behalf of Nova at conferences, leading technical team meetings for both rotomolding and drums and IBC and hosting customer engagements/visits to represent Nova with both large and small direct customers.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Riaz: Since my very first day at Nova, my main professional mentor has been Henry Hay, a very senior and knowledgeable rotomolding technical services specialist. Besides helping with my onboarding with the company, he has encouraged me to be hungry for experience and to learn as well as emphasizing the soft skills which are needed to be a leader to our customers. It is not about who is the smartest guy at the table that people want to follow but someone that has the intangible qualities of a leader, listening, charisma, experience, which, just like learning a new language or learning calculus, is something that one can always work towards improving.
In addition, my leader and boss Gil Arnould is also someone who has helped coach and guide me in my development. Particularly, being comfortable in uncomfortable or new situations as those are opportunities to grow and to leverage your growing knowledge and experience to find your voice in influencing the direction of a team. I have also had other mentors and sources of knowledge such as account managers, research scientists and industry experts each helping me in different areas.
Outside of a professional setting, I really look up to my mom as someone who is very intelligent, driven and has values I try to embody on a daily basis. As someone who had to undergo training to be a doctor twice (once in Pakistan and again moving to Canada), her drive and attitude is something which had also empowered me to believe in my abilities growing up.