Q&A with BASF Canada’s new President, Apala Mukherjee

February 9, Apala Mukherjee was appointed President of BASF Canada effective March 1. She will chair BASF Canada’s Executive Committee, head its Leadership Team and lead internal business support groups, including Market and Customer Development and Sustainability.

Ms. Mukherjee has held various positions within BASF Groups including Director of Sustainability of Value Chains in Florham Park, New Jersey. CIAC had a chance to ask her some questions about her new role and what she hopes to achieve at BASF Canada.

Q: Welcome to Canada! Can you describe a bit about your previous role in the US and what led you to want to come to Canada?

A: Prior to moving to Canada, I was Director, Sustainability of Value Chains for BASF Corporation, located in Florham Park in New Jersey. Over two decades of working in this industry in various roles and regions, I have interfaced with many different industries: health and nutrition, packaging, paints, adhesives, automotive, consumer goods. In all these areas, sustainability, innovation, and digitalization are fast becoming key tenets of success. That is why I have been involved in the circular economy aspect of the business. Sustainability is something that I am very passionate about and I was very excited to be offered a position that is linked to BASF’s sustainability future goals.

I have held various leadership positions within BASF Group like heading Marketing Acrylics in Singapore and Global Business Director for Polyolefins Catalysts in the US.

Q: What do you consider to be the most pressing issues for BASF in Canada today? In the next year?

A: I have watched BASF Canada’s contribution to the overall success of BASF not only in the region but globally and over the years I have seen the company grow in sustainability and digitalization. This organization is a shining example of how we bring innovative solutions to the market. It is a very energized and modern company.

Likewise, Canada is a leader in sustainability. Canada ranks 20th in terms of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Combining that with BASF’s purpose, “We create chemistry for a sustainable future,” and my strong drive towards bringing sustainable solutions to scale, when I was offered the opportunity to lead BASF Canada organization, I said the loudest “Yes!”

The Canadian Government is taking many steps to promote sustainability and providing opportunities for companies to create jobs for a low carbon future. BASF Canada, with  partnerships and initiatives like reciChain, the pilot program supporting the value-based alliance, our renewable energy partnership with Bullfrog Power is positioned to lead the change and generate value for our customers and for society. I look forward to working various partners and organizations in Canada and drive these activities forward.

Q: Can you describe your leadership style?

A:  A leader needs to be flexible and leadership style is situational. But having said that, my leadership style is built around inspiring collaboration to achieve business results. We can only do that when employees bring their best ideas forward. That only happens when employees are fully engaged, feel valued and have a sense of belonging. I am a firm believer that a leader’s primary role is to create an environment of trust, honesty, and transparency. I like to give people space and freedom. I put proper guard rails so that they can take calculated risks (and not fall off the cliff so to speak), and then learn from their experiences. I consider myself quite approachable and I try to be present and visible for employees to discuss what is on their minds, be it solutions, opportunities and/or problems. Not just my direct reports, but the entire organization.

Q: What are BASF Canada’s and your own personal goals when working with CIAC?

A: There are two very important pieces.

The first is sustainability. Plastic waste is one of the most pressing environmental challenges we are facing today. Since I led the circular economy activities in North America, I know it is not easy to tackle. BASF Canada is trying to address this through projects like reciChain, which improves track and trace and uses blockchain technology to enhance recyclability of plastics. This project has been piloted in British Columbia, but it requires effort across the industry. One of my goals is to bring integrated approach and disruptive technology to improve the industry’s efforts to reduce plastic waste and to bring it to commercial scale.

The other piece that is close to my heart is diversity and inclusion. At BASF, we believe that when we have a diverse workforce and conscious inclusion, amazing things happen. We want to be the partner of choice for customers, and we also want to be a great place for our employees to work. In my opinion, this delivers the greatest value not only to society but to our customers as well. For me, it is not an option, it is a requirement.

One of our corporate values is openness, which is why we welcome all talent and more importantly, once they are hired, we want them to feel included.  Belonging is powerful motivator for engagement. As a leader, I know we are not perfect, but we are taking a lot of steps that promote our commitment. We promote inclusiveness with various network groups: Women in BASF, LGBT and Friends, Military Veterans or the African American Employee Resources Groups, just to name a few. In Canada, we have achieved BASF’s female hiring targets, so we have increased our targets further. We are a proud participant of The Gender Equality Leadership in the Canadian Private Sector and this is something we will continue to strive for and improve on.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

A: I come to BASF Canada with open eyes and ears and an openness to learn and contribute. I look forward to the myriad of opportunities to work with CIAC. CIAC has been a trusted partner for BASF Canada for many years and I would like to continue the legacy of my predecessors, with my active involvement and participation, being part of the work towards our goals of being a diverse association, solution providers and steward pioneers. I look forward to working with CIAC and its members. I ask readers to connect with us to discuss more about chemistry and sustainability related topics.