Listen to Bonnie and Victoria’s Conversation Here: 


Bonnie Tully, North American President of Evonik, joins host Victoria Meyer to tackle Responsible Care®, the ambitious strides in sustainability, and the transformative shifts in industry culture. Bonnie shares compelling insights and actionable strategies this week on The Chemical Show. 

This episode is a masterclass in leadership, sustainability, and making big impacts through small steps, all while navigating the ever-evolving demands of the chemical industry. Don’t miss Bonnie’s take on fostering an innovative culture and her empowering advice for the next generation of industry leaders!

This episode was recorded at the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care® and Sustainability Conference. 

Victoria and Bonnie discuss the following:

  • Responsible Care® principles at Evonik
  • Evonik’s sustainability pillars: next-generation solutions, technology, and culture.
  • Customer demand for sustainable solutions
  • Cultural shift towards sustainability within Evonik and employee engagement.
  • Women in leadership roles & Bonnie’s career advice

 

Killer Quote: “It’s really the employees seeing sustainable opportunities and bringing them forward… and then management saying, hey, we see a business case here and pushing the organization to work towards sustainability.” – Bonnie Tulley


Watch Bonnie and Victoria Discuss Responsible Care and More on Youtube Here:


Achieving Success in Chemicals: Sustainability and Leadership with Bonnie Tully of Evonik

Hi, this is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. Today, I am speaking with Bonnie Tully, who is the North American president of Evonik. We are at ACC’s Responsible Care® and Sustainability Conference, where Bonnie has been a panelist and a participant, and we’re going to be talking about sustainability, Responsible Care®, and more. Bonnie, thanks for joining me today.

Thanks for having me.

Absolutely. So let’s just start with your career and your interest in chemicals. How did you get into the chemical industry, and what led you to where you are today?

So I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and that area has a lot of industrial companies, chemical & petrochemical companies. When I was growing up there, a lot of my friends, their families, their mothers, and their fathers worked in the chemical industry. So it seemed very normal that it would be an industry to go into. I went to Texas A&M, graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, and thought I was going into the oil and gas industry. But I graduated during a time when there was an economic downturn, and so that made me really look at the chemical industry. So I went in, I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, and have really found it very fulfilling.

You have a lot of opportunities within the industry. Particularly if you go with larger companies you can have a lot of opportunities in that company alone to really develop your career. I started my career with Rohm & Haas and the business that I was in ultimately got acquired by Evonik, and that’s how I went over to working for a German multinational was through an acquisition. That also opens a lot of opportunities when you move from a U.S. based company to a multinational.

You spent a big part of your career in manufacturing, am I right? And then now into leading the company.

Yeah, correct. So, I spent many years in the manufacturing part of the business. Started out as a project engineer, moved my way through production, maintenance, and technical manager. Then the company asked if I would go to Singapore. So I was there to build a plant and then I was the plant manager there. And then onto managing some of our larger facilities. I managed our facility in Mobile, Alabama, which is the largest Evonik facility in North America.

I can just say when you’re managing large sites it really prepares you to run a company or run a region. You have P&L responsibilities, you are dealing with lots of different functions, and lots of different HR topics. It was actually kind of a smooth transition to running a business after you’ve run a very large site.

I bet. In the chemical industry most of the employees are in manufacturing. So when you’re running a large site, you’ve got everything, you’ve got people, you’ve got HR, you’ve got policies, you’ve got systems and then you move into leadership of the region and you have all of that and more.

Exactly.

So we’re here talking about Responsible Care®. What does Responsible Care® mean to Evonik and how does it look at Evonik when you think about that?

While I’ve been here at this conference one of the things I learned yesterday was Responsible Care® started in 1988. So it started just a little bit before I entered the industry. For me, Responsible Care® has always been around, but hearing that this conference made me realize that was a step change that happened right at the very beginning of my career, but I’ve always known it to be there. We like Responsible Care® in Evonik because it gives us some foundational principles that we can speak about that we all agree to, whether we’re talking about our production facilities or with management. So, whether it’s how important we take process hazard analysis or that we will participate in our community action panels or that we will stay on top of our mechanical integrity programs. It really becomes like a value proposition. What are our foundational principles? And like I said, it gives you that good foundation so you can speak one language within the company.

Right. I think for me, the other thing is because Responsible Care® exists across the industry, it’s a common platform and a common set of expectations across all the member companies and how they operate, interact and execute.

Absolutely. As a manufacturer, we know we’re just one part of the whole supply chain. You’ve got the logistics providers, you’ve got the transporters, you’ve got the warehouses et cetera. And like you said, we all kind of have a common platform that we all agree that we’re going to be Responsible Care® providers, and it is very important.

Sustainable eco-energy, CO2 emissions and global warming with investment constraints and economic and financial growth. responsible care

Right. So the other part of this conference obviously is sustainability. Sustainability is such a critical topic in the industry. It probably always has been. Yet it’s certainly come to light much more and become much more sharply in focus in the last five years. Can you talk about what sustainability means to Evonik?

Yeah, so we know that the topic of sustainability can be very complicated. That word carries so much with it, right? Within Evonik, we realized we needed to take that topic and make it more understandable for our employees. So basically we have broken sustainability down to three pillars. We call it next generation solutions, next generation technology, and next generation culture. Next generation solutions are the products that we are manufacturing that help our customers make more sustainable products and we have a goal that we want by 2030. We want over 50% of our portfolio of products to be sustainable solutions and we’re moving in that direction. Next generation technologies are the things that we do as a company to reduce our footprint. So, less CO2 emissions, better use of energy, of water, of land and trying to make as small of a footprint as possible on this earth.

Our next generation solutions, we call that our handprint. We want to be a helping hand to our customers and then next generation technologies focuses on that smallest footprint as possible. Then the third pillar of that is next generation culture because to get a whole organization to move forward on sustainability, that has to become cultural.

Makes sense. When you think about the solutions, I think probably a lot of the products that have traditionally been in place fall into that category of really supporting sustainability profiles for your customers. Is this something your customers are actively asking for and looking for is sustainable solutions from Evonik?

Yes, absolutely. We see that globally. We are a German headquartered company, so it definitely in the EU. There’s a very big push that they want to start seeing sustainable solutions. But we also have it here in the U.S. as well, and in North America as well. But yes, there is a request for it.

You hit on a very interesting point that it’s not only the new shiny solutions that companies can provide, but also going and using existing technology in sustainable ways. So, for example we have silica, which is a product that’s been around for quite a while, but they now are using that in tires because they make them, we call them green tires, they reduce the rolling resistance for better better fuel efficiency, as well as they allow longer life of those tires, so you don’t have to replace them as much. Companies are also working on those new technologies. So, for example, we have membrane technology to separate biogas to get methane from the biogas. It doesn’t have to be on a very big scale anymore. It’s something that farmers can use. Where you have any kind of waste manure or food waste, you can start capturing that using technology like these membranes, separate it, and then you have methane.

And then we have some that are really spectacular like our biosurfactants. So these are biorenewable, biodegradable, biobased and these are really next generational solutions.

That’s really cool. Requires a lot of innovation.

Absolutely.

The other pillar that you talk about is culture. Certainly I think the sustainability mindset has been a cultural shift for probably every company, from our time starting in the industry, sustainability was not a conversation and today, it’s really the conversation. Can you talk about what that culture looks like and what those expectations are around sustainability and culture for Evonik?

I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, and I think if you look at the very beginning when I entered this, you even had climate change deniers, right? There was really a pushback against it and people would say, “No, we’re not going to spend resources on this.” There has just been a monumental shift to now, where the chemical industry sees that this is real and that we’re now part of the solution, we’re solution providers and we’re going to be part of the discussion now and part of the solution. So that has been a major change. But to be able to take an organization with you, you have to have a cultural part of that. For us, our next generation culture is that we see that sustainability is part of our business case and part of our business model.

As managers, we want to see sustainable solutions coming out and we want our employees to feel that they can bring opportunities forward as well. So it’s really the employees seeing sustainable opportunities and bringing them forward and also knowing that management will support that and then management saying, “Hey, we see a business case here.” Then pushing the organization to work towards sustainability, like I said, either in our plants or solutions. You have to have both, you have to have the employees as well as management all saying , “Yeah, this is the direction we’re going and that’s culture.”

And have employees really embrace that shift.

Oh, absolutely. At the shop floor level, they really appreciate the opportunity to bring forward ideas that they have. Maybe they’ve seen them for a long time and to say like, “I think if we do this, we can reduce this waste or could we put in led light bulbs in the plant.” And when we say, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” It’s just positive reinforcement, but they are ready.

Leader get a new idea a brainstorming planning and strategy in competition success play , concept strategy and successful management or leadership responsible care

That’s exciting. When you think about your future employees, do you find that having a strong sustainability profile is important to new employees coming into the industry?

Absolutely. I think in every industry the new generations coming in have a newfound respect for the planet. They realize that if they’re going to have a planet that they want to live on in two or three generations, drastic changes have to happen. I think they want to bring that into the workforce, and they’re really passionate about it.

That’s cool. You talk about big changes, but I think the other piece that struck me today when you were on the panel, you talked about the importance of incremental improvements and the opportunity for incremental improvements that all companies can embrace. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Yeah. We all are limited on resources and I don’t care if you’re a small organization or a large organization. I think maybe small organizations look at large organizations and say, you’ve got 10 people working on sustainability. I can tell you large organizations wish they had a hundred people working on it. You just never have enough resources in this area. No matter the size of your organization. So every organization just needs to start with incremental improvements. We have found some really great improvements on things like adding spray balls in our reactors to clean our reactors instead of recycling solvents around.

Putting timers on HVAC systems, putting in LED light bulbs, monitoring flow through heat exchangers so that they will be more efficient. These incremental wins really start to add up. None of these are big money and none of them have to wait for the Big Bang Sustainability program and we are really seeing that this is moving the company forward incrementally but sustainably and successfully.

Yeah, and what strikes me with that is, you mentioned that it’s not just the domain of big companies. There are things that people can do, but it also seems like those are ideas that tie back to getting individuals involved. So it’s not just the domain of a strategy group or an innovation group to figure out what the next sustainability story is. It’s something that people can do in their everyday day roles, anybody can identify incremental improvements.

Exactly, and be part of the solution, right? Everybody feels good about that, when you can be part of the solution.

Yeah, absolutely. So let’s talk a little bit about career and leadership. You’ve obviously seen great success through your career. What leadership lessons and career lessons have you learned along the way?

When I think about leadership in general, as you move up the organization things just get more and more complicated. Things just get more and more difficult to manage. That’s the way of the world. What I found when I do see that, when it seems like things are getting quite complicated or too many topics, I just try to go back to fundamental values. One of those for me is the golden rule, treat others like you want to be treated. Whether I’m taking that into an HR issue, treat that employee like I want to be treated, or I’m taking it into a community topic, treat our communities, like we want our communities treated.

It’s just a nice fundamental that you can go back to and has so many applicable cases. As you move up the organizational ladder, it gets more and more complicated. So need some fundamental ideas to go back to. Then the other one, being a woman leader, that I’d like to comment on is that sometimes I find women as they move into leadership roles, they are hesitant to put their ideas on the table, particularly if you’re in a conference or a conference room. I wish somebody had told me earlier in my career to not be hesitant, to get those ideas out there. There’s a reason why I’m in the room. There’s a reason why I’m at the table, and that is to share my opinions as well and bring those into the discussion.

I know I was personally hesitant sometimes to bring those ideas forward. I was lucky enough to have a very good leader who took me aside after a meeting where I had not spoken out and he said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” I was like, “Well, I just, I don’t know if my idea was perfect. I had to think about my words.”

And he said, “You were in that room and you were at that table because we needed your opinion. Never hesitate. Never hold yourself back. Bring your opinion forward. We need it. We want it. There’s a reason why you were in that room.” And he really encouraged me and supported me to do that going forward.

I think that’s great. I think that’s a lesson that a lot of women have to learn, cause we’re often coached to be perfect. We’re often coached to let others speak first. Yet the reality is, in order to get your idea forward, in order to take the next step, you have to be willing to speak up and you have to be willing to take that seat at the table. And when you’ve got the seat, use it..

Absolutely.

Hand choosing Yes or No block. Answer, question and decision concept responsible care

Awesome. So what advice would you give to people that are early in their career that are really looking to have a successful career and a career trajectory similar to yours?

I think the best advice I can give is to take advantage of opportunities when they are offered. You never know what those opportunities are going to lead to. Sometimes these can be very small opportunities. Join that activities committee, join that safety committee, be on the community awareness committee because you never know who you’re going to be working with on those type of committees. Our activities committee at our site allows people to work with me directly. And you would say, the activities committee? You’re just deciding you’re going to do ice cream social Friday, right? You don’t know who else is going to be in that room when you’re deciding on ice cream social Friday. You’re maybe working with some very high level managers and then they get to know you and you get to know them on a more personal level and boy, you just can start increasing your network by doing that.

On a bigger scale, if you get asked to take on opportunities like assignments, would you consider being the maintenance manager? Would you consider being the technical manager? Would you consider going and running a plant in Singapore? More than likely, it’s better if you say yes to those. It will really open up a wide variety of opportunities going forward for you.

Love it, and you obviously said yes more than you said no. Which is one of the keys to success.

Well, Bonnie, thank you so much for joining me today.

Thank you for having me.


About Bonnie Tully:

Bonnie Tully began her career in 1993 with Rohm & Haas as a project engineer before becoming materials manager and technical manager at Evonik’s Oil Additives (Rohmax) in Houston, Texas. In 2006, she transferred to Singapore and served as plant manager Asia-Pacific until her relocation to Mobile, AL in 2011 to become head of the Mobile Site. Prior to her role as President in 2020, she served as the CFO for the North American region. Bonnie Tully holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.