Mixing chemistry and business

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Despina Anastasiou
Despina Anastasiou

Despina Anastasiou knew when she completed her PhD in chemistry at Monash that she wasn't destined to wear a lab coat forever.

While working on her thesis on organometallic chemistry, Anastasiou enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of a PhD team, but she wanted to branch out from research, yet still be linked to ground breaking technology. A friend’s accounts of the opportunities for professional growth he had been exposed to within Dow Chemical (Australia) and his business travel made an impression. Anastasiou joined the huge science-driven company two weeks after she submitted her thesis.  Twenty-three years later, she is still working and continues to thrive there.

Dow, a $57B company supplies a diversified range of specialty chemical, plastics, advanced materials products and solutions to approximately 160 countries and in sectors such as agriculture, water, coatings, electronics and packaging. 

Anastasiou started in the technical services division that handled Dow’s range of epoxy and composite resins.  After two years, her role was expanded to the Asia-Pacific region. Having a graduate diploma in Japanese helped her in Asia, as did her PhD. “In Asia Pacific, formal education is highly valued and our customers were very receptive to what I had to say”, she says.

After three years in her first role, Despina approach her supervisor and indicated she was seeking further challenges. As a development opportunity, she undertook a concurrent financial assignment, becoming the right-hand person to the group’s business analyst.  This gave her a new set of commercial skills and a broader understanding of how the company ran.

That was the start of her movement through Dow to more senior roles, both here and overseas.

“The reason I joined Dow is because Dow invests in people, and not a day has passed where I haven’t learned something.  My personal motto is to be the best that I can be, and I genuinely believe that when you stop learning, it’s time to go,” she says. 

Anastasiou has worked in market development, strategic account management and global business management. A recent global role took her and her family to Shanghai for three years, an experience she found highly rewarding.

Along the way she’s been a professional coach for many within the company. “I’m a very active mentor at Dow. If I had my time again I would have looked for a strong mentor myself much earlier,” she says.  Externally, she promotes the study of Chemistry and Science and has recently presented at the Synchrotron (RACI), Monash and at local high schools to spread this message.

Anastasiou is currently business development director, Asia Pacific. She is married with three sons.

The daughter of Greek MGEants, she’ll soon take up what she calls her “dream job” – country manager for Greece, which she describes as a “fabulous opportunity, personally and professionally” and yet another new challenge.