As senior vice president of the Performance Materials business for BASF Corp. in North America, Gulay Serhatkulu is involved with the entire materials know-how of the chemicals and resins supplier regarding innovative, customized plastics and is globally active in the transportation, construction, industrial applications and consumer goods markets.
Serhatkulu said her obstacle is keeping the "spirit of endurance and resilience up for me and my team under the given supply challenges across the North America region, which has impacted our business and the industry overall since February of this year."
As well, during the pandemic, Serhatkulu's challenge has been engaging virtually with her teams.
"I like to meet people in person, and when I first started this role, I traveled to all my sites in North America. I planned to do that every year as it's important to have that personal connection where people can see that you're a real person to build trust and change the culture," she said. "The pandemic forced me to think differently and creatively on how I approach that with virtual tools. It has been successful, though I am looking forward to face-to-face visits again."
Serhatkulu earned two post-doctoral appointments at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. and Wayne State University in Detroit. She earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in polymer science and engineering and chemical engineering from the University of Akron in Ohio and Hacettepe University in Turkey.
She joined BASF in 2006 as a technical service representative and has held a variety of roles in the company, including product management, marketing, sales, strategy and procurement. She is involved with the American Chemistry Council's plastics division.
"Being a woman, an immigrant and an executive at BASF Corp. while being a mother and having a dual career status [is the mold I'm breaking]. And doing it my way," she said. "I am breaking the mold for all the women after me who have successful spouses/partners and children so they won't be afraid to be themselves in the workplace for the sake of acceptance."
Serhatkulu was nominated by Susan Jackson, senior marketing communications manager, Performance Materials, for BASF.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Serhatkulu: My greatest work achievement has been my ability to create great teams. I can tell people what to do as the boss, but it's much more effective and rewarding if I can create an environment and a culture where the team works together for a common goal. I'm very proud of the teams I have created and the team I'm leading now at BASF.
Q: What was your first plastics job and why were you interested in the industry?
Serhatkulu: My first official job in the industry was as a technical service representative in the thermoplastic polyurethane business. I climbed on top of many extruders, solved many customers' problems and developed unique products.
In 1998, during my studies at the University of Akron, Ohio, I developed a passion for plastics while working with biodegradable plastics for packaging applications. At the same time, I met and fell in love with my husband who was working on his Ph.D. at UA. So, plastics became not only my job, but part of my dinner conversations and daily life.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Serhatkulu: I find the speed of solution development for very complex problems in the plastics industry amazing. It requires new business models, products, investments or technologies in many cases, yet the industry is fast and very bold. Automotive OEMs as well as material suppliers such as BASF are working together to develop new technologies to drive growth in e-mobility. We're also seeing this in other industries such as medical, packaging and renewable energy. There is a plastic solution for almost every new application, every new problem or demand.