Creating chemistry for a sustainable future
The way David Hawkins (BSc 1989, BE (Chem)(Hons) 1991) sees it, “The more senior you get, the bigger the impact you can have on people.” Now Chairman and Managing Director of BASF Australia and New Zealand, he plays a lead role in realising the company’s vision of environmental protection and social responsibility.
“We operate 13 production sites with over 500 people working across a range of industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, automotive refinishing, mining and construction,” explains David. “Our purpose is to create chemistry for a sustainable future. This is a responsibility we take very seriously – and a space where BASF is a key driver of innovation and change.”
In his 15 years with BASF, David has performed various functions. “This gave me important exposure to broad-based challenges,” he remarks. “I had the opportunity to explore different contexts which taught me a lot and, in hindsight, helped prepare me for my current role. For me, the broader the better – you have to empower your people as experts in their areas and, as a leader, guide them through challenges along the way.”
David adds, “All of the experiences – good and bad – and knowledge you collect over your career really help when you get into a senior role. Having studied Chemical Engineering, and now having spent time in the business of chemistry, means that I often need less background when discussing technical subjects with my team.”
Good preparation notwithstanding, taking on a senior role presents significant hurdles. “You start moving away from being valued for what you know to being valued for who you are as a leader,” shares David. “This requires a lot of vulnerability and self-acceptance. You need to rethink how you see yourself and what you bring to an organisation.”
At BASF, David also advocates for a diverse and empowered workforce. “I want to develop the growth mindset of our people and support a culture that makes BASF a great place to work,” he says. In that spirit, he has become involved with Male Champions for Change, a group dedicated to improving gender equity in Australian workplaces. David recognises that a workforce that’s gender diverse is more engaged and more successful than one that’s not.
“Research shows that, to make change, key leaders in organisations need to be the driver of gender equity and, by the very nature of the issue, it is mostly males in this position,” David asserts. “Male Champions for Change come together to discuss barriers and challenges, and encourage consistent action by identifying and implementing common initiatives that can increase diversity across all levels. We don’t just say ‘I believe in this’ – we go in there and say ‘hold me accountable’ and live what we say.”
David serves on the board of Chemistry Australia, the body representing Australia’s chemistry industry. “Companies working collectively is important for our social license – that is, the acceptance of standard business practices and operating procedures by employees, stakeholders and the general public,” he maintains. “Two of our major focusses right now are plastic waste reduction and the impact of gas pricing on business profitability.”
Additionally, David sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council of the Faculty of Engineering. “I joined the Council because I was really impressed with Monash’s work in the Innovation Precinct, as well as with the 50/50 gender balance of University staff,” he states. “I had a great time at university and do not think I’d be where I am today without Monash. I’m excited to continue that connection with the students coming through by putting myself in their shoes.”
What does David say to young engineers? “Don’t get too caught up in measuring yourself by your marks, or comparing yourself to others. Make the most of your time at Monash through the many opportunities on offer,” he advises. “When it comes to success, it’s just as important to bring your whole self to a job and not just rely on intellectual ability. The people who are most successful have worked just as hard to grow themselves personally as they have intellectually.”