Born in Vienna, Barbara Walker started in sales support in the Viennese sales office of specialty chemicals producer Lubrizol Corp., expatriated to the United States, spent some time in research and development, then switched to information technology "as a result of being invited to participate as a core technical team member in the global implementation of an ERP system."
Walker then joined the Geon Co. — later PolyOne Corp. and now Avient Corp. in Avon Lake, Ohio.
"I managed various IT application teams and led the IT aspects of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance," she said. "In 2007, I became director of global IT operations. Later, I launched the company's global cybersecurity program and a few years ago started the company's journey of developing and implementing our global data privacy program."
As senior director of global IT operations, security, privacy for Avient, Walker oversees the development, implementation and ongoing management of its global IT infrastructure, IT operations, cybersecurity and data privacy programs.
Walker holds a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from the Technical University of Vienna.
She started in the plastics industry as a system, applications and products analyst.
"I was interested in the industry because plastics are based on intricate chemistry, which matched my educational background very well," she said.
When Walker started studying chemistry, she was in a class of roughly 250 students, mostly men and just a few women. When she graduated with a Ph.D. seven "pretty tough" years later, there were only three who graduated from the class — all women.
Walker is active in the Northeast Ohio CyberConsortium, InfraGard and International Association of Privacy Professionals.
Walker said she is breaking the mold of always being "on."
"I am a very driven person who strives to deliver results and make things better every day, inside and outside of the department," she said. "I do realize that I need to take time to recharge and be 'off.' This is work in progress; if I don't do it, my team may not feel they can do it, and for us to consistently perform at a very high level, it is critical that we find ways to recharge and allow ourselves to do that without feelings of guilt."
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Walker: I have had a number of mentors throughout my career. My first boss was a great mentor; he saw something in me and created a position so I could join the company. I still remember his saying, "If you can't beat them, join them." Today, I would describe this as "collaborate"; focus on the win-win.
I had another great mentor whose advice sticks with me to this day: Not everything requires a decision on the spot; sometimes things resolve themselves in the best possible way if you give them some time to play out.
I am also fortunate to having been invited to develop as well as participate in formal and informal mentoring programs. What I have learned is that mentoring comes in many different shapes and forms, and we can greatly benefit if we do not limit ourselves with preconceived ideas of what mentoring should and should not be.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Walker: Finding the right balance between enabling the use of new, innovative technology at high speed for the benefit of the business and implementing cybersecurity and data privacy controls that protect the business against cyberthreats and meet regulatory requirements.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Walker: Clean energy storage — one of the clean energy industry's biggest problems. Not only will the projected exponential clean energy storage demand likely create many primary and adjacent opportunities for the plastics industry, it's also a vital component of fully harnessing clean energy, thereby reducing pollution and climate change.