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Dr. Stephanie Wohlgemuth

The strategy behind chemistry

Dr. Stephanie Wohlgemuth actually intended to stay in academics after earning her Ph.D. Now, however, she works in Evonik Corporate Strategy, where she faces new challenges every day.

Diversity has always been part of Dr. Stephanie Wohlgemuth’s life. Born in Saudi Arabia to a German father and an Indonesian mother, she had already lived in five different countries by the time she finished her Ph.D. in chemistry in Potsdam. “My father worked for a German automaker and had to travel a lot for his job. We went along wher ever they sent him, so we were constantly exposed to new people and cultures,” Wohlgemuth explains. “I didn’t want to give up that diversity—even once I started my career.”

That’s why the chemist stayed in constant contact with international researchers while she pursued her doctorate at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, and regularly participated in conferences and workshops—originally with the aim of pursuing an academic career at a university in the United States. “I couldn’t really imagine chemistry in industry being that interesting,” says Wohlgemuth. Creavis President Prof. Stefan Buchholz was able to change her mind at a conference on sustainable chemistry. “We started talking and I was immediately excited about how many disciplines and types of projects are represented at Evonik,” the 30-year-old recalls. “Some 4,000 products and operations in over 100 countries all over the world—that impressed me.”

Shortly afterward in 2013, she started her career as part of a trainee program at Creavis, the strategic innovation unit of Evonik. “It was a perfect entry for me,” Wohlgemuth says. A large variety of projects gave her the opportunity to meet many new colleagues while collaborating with Evonik’s segments at the interface between business and research geared toward long-term goals. Among others things, she developed the concept for the first Science-to-Business workshop, assumed responsibilities at the Composites Project House and in Strategic Controlling, and supported the Creavis 3.0 Project, which aimed to continue development of the strategic innovation unit.

Making strategic decisions

“I learned how interesting it is to make strategic decisions,” says Wohlgemuth. “A key question at Creavis was always what activities we wanted to invest in for the future. What will keep us competitive and advance our customers’ aims?” This was no easy task: Decisions had to be questioned over and over and adapted to the fast-paced environment of the market. “Each day was different,” Wohlgemuth recalls. “Working on such a wide range of topics with creative and highly talented colleagues really motivated and inspired me.”

After spending time in Taiwan for a project, she worked as a business analyst for Creavis, providing market-related support for strategic research projects. Due to the strong collaboration with Evonik segments, taking a job there seemed a likely next step for her. However, another option opened up for the chemist: transferring to Corporate Strategy, a unit that advises the Executive Board on the Group’s overarching strategic orientation and addresses question such as, How should we position the portfolio in the long term? Do segment activities fit in with the company’s overall strategy? What do we need to do to position Evonik for sustainable success?

Within this corporate division, Wohlgemuth works as a strategy consultant for the Corporate Structure & Functional Strategy department led by Peter Friesenhahn, where she focuses on strategic activities of Technology & Infrastructure GmbH (TI). “TI bundles infrastructure and technology services, and has around 8,000 employees making a fundamental contribution to the company’s success,” Wohlgemuth points out. “As the backbone of the operational chemistry segments, TI provides reliable services and innovative technologies.”

Maintaining a dialogue

As a contact person and an interface to the Executive Board, Wohlgemuth regularly updates the board on developments within TI, provides assessments, and offers recommendations. The strategy consultant also plays a check-and-balance role with respect to Technology & Infrastructure, i.e. she stays in regular contact with her colleagues and supports the dialogue with the Executive Board.

This includes TI’s annual “Strategy Dialogue.” At this event, segment representatives meet with the Executive Board to discuss how their services can be geared more effectively toward the needs of customers and how TI can support the company’s overall success. The key challenge for the service units is to continuously develop and improve their competitiveness and efficiency. Digitalization is one of the strategic topics discussed during this dialogue. An example applicable to technical services is predictive maintenance. This involves making intelligent use of plant and equip¬ment data as a basis for health assessments, which give operators the ability to identify and eliminate anomalies that could lead to unplanned plant failures over the short or long term. “That increases plant availability, which, in turn, reduces costs and—most importantly—raises customer satisfaction,” Wohlgemuth explains.

When she looks back at her views in graduate school, the chemist can’t help but smile to herself. “Now I know that chemistry in industry is never boring,” says Wohlgemuth. “There are so many disciplines and so much work to do—the variety of new opportunities never runs out.” She doesn’t know where her path will take her, but she could well imagine working at one of Evonik’s sites abroad. One thing she knows for sure, however: “My work has to stay as exciting and versatile as it is now.”