Located in the Davis Drive corridor in RTPon a sprawling campus fronted by a lake, BASF announces its slogan with a sign, “We create chemistry.” This global company will be reaching out to the RTP community at the Asian Focus (AF) Dragon Festival on September 23. Lauren Perkinson and Anil Menon are preparing their 2017 science booth hoping to attract interest in what they do to protect the environment: helping farmers promote sensible measures to create habitats for helpful creatures like butterflies and bees. Here are excerpts of our conversation with Lauren & Anil.
Gregoria Smith (GS): Thank you for allowing us to have this conversation at Asian Focus. Please tell us a bit about yourselves.
Anil Menon (AM): I’m Anil Menon. I am a native of Kerala, India, but was raised in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu. I completed my PhD at Kansas University and was interested in joining the pest control industry. When I asked one of the stalwarts in the industry, he suggested that in order to gain experience I would have start from the bottom and work as a technician. So, I did that for a couple of years. I finished my PhD and I joined as a technical and training director for a large Midwestern Pest control company in Wisconsin. I worked there for 5 years. I was then offered a position at BASF and that’s how I got to RTP.
Lauren (LP): I grew up here in NC, in a very small agricultural town near the Virginia border. I went to NC State, where I focused on biology and genetics, my real love. Right after college I ended up joining BASF as a research scientist. I do the actual hands on breeding: intergressing genes into elite lines which then become commercialized BASF products.
GS: I have been to the Farmer’s Market in Raleigh and I noticed that farming is big in NC, lots of fresh produce and interesting new varieties of flowers and vegetables. How does BASF help farmers control pests that attack their plants?
AM: We work on discovering new, selective chemistry that can manage pests without causing adverse effects in the environment. Did you know that it costs around $300 million to develop and register a pesticide? This is mainly due to the time it takes to make sure that it is safe for humans, animals and the environment.
GS: What would you like to share with AF about your family?
AM: My wife is from Singapore. She has been in the US since college, though. We met through mutual family friends, and we hit it off.
GS. Your parents did not choose your wife?
AM: (Laugh.) No, although they like to say they were involved. But, it was just me and my wife.
GS: When was the last time you visited your family in India?
AM: I visit my mother and siblings in India at least once a year. I am very close to my family. My father passed away just last year.
LP. I am married and my husband is also from NC. We met through a good friend, when I was a senior in college. He was already out of college and working for the Boys Scouts. We have an eight month old daughter, Maggie.
GS: Who takes care of her while you work?
LP: It’s tough but my husband mostly works from home. So, he keeps her most days. My father is retired and my Mom is close to retirement, but she has a flexible schedule so she can come down if we need her help.
GS. Why did you choose the Raleigh-Durham Area?
AM: The BASF North America headquarters for Agricultural Products is located in RTP.
GS: Asian Focus is also about promoting uniqueness, the enduring characteristics that make up who we are. In recognizing differences, we find commonalities. Lauren, you are from here. What changes have you seen in the RTP Area in the last few years?
LP: In the last ten years, I have seen more people come to this area from other countries. It has grown a lot. I would encourage everyone to reach out and experience other cultures because it broadens one’s horizons in ways that are very beneficial. I appreciate that BASF promotes and values diversity. I am lucky that I have met the people I have through our ABC- Asian Business Community.
AM: ABC is a part of the BASF employee resource groups. ABC was started in 2012, to help create a single community for the various Asian cultures. It also serves to address the unique needs of this group within BASF. This effort is strongly supported by our management.
GS: What do you do at ABC?
AM: I am the ABC Chairman and Lauren is the Co-Chair. The core mission of ABC is to “attract, develop, promote and retain Asian employees.” We do that in various ways.
GS: What kind of activities do you organize to promote your mission?
LP: In addition to the three core employee events, the Lunar New Year, Asian Heritage Month (May) and Diwali, we are also actively involved in Career fairs, AgVocates (Toastmasters), promotion of Asian business etiquette, ARTS and STEM expo’s, Diversity and Inclusion days, etc.
GS: When you invite speakers to BASF, what topics do they cover in your program?
AM- We invite speakers to a variety of our events, and the topic is specific to an event. Recently, we invited a university provost to speak to us about stereotyping and the so-called “Bamboo Ceiling.” The g
roup also supports employee development, especially increasing presentation skills, so the ABC was a sponsor of the BASF chapter of Toastmasters.
GS: Once a person is hired, how does BASF encourage promotion to a higher level or position?
AM: There are plenty of opportunities to grow within BASF. But you have to take charge of your own career development. It’s up to the individual to develop himself/herself and is based on his/her talent and capabilities. BASF has a mentorship program, so many individuals take advantage of this program to increase skills and broaden internal networks. Managers and team members also discuss goals and professional development throughout the year. Professional development is strongly supported.
GS: Ah, yes. Some Asians claim that they do not get promoted as easily as other groups or that they are not paid a fair wage. Some Asians are taught early on not to ask questions. It’s really the opposite of what you need to do if you’re wanting to keep a job or move up. You have to show them you’re interested by asking questions. Is that something you talk about?
LP: The presentation on the “Bamboo ceiling” brought up a lot of topics for discussion. My manager is from China. After this lecture, we were able to have an open discussion and our communication has improved.
GS: What do you do if you see that someone has an issue like isolation, not participating, or communicating as well as s/he might.
LP: BASF fosters a sense of being able to communicate openly, but it’s important to pay attention to those around you and encourage involvement. Sometimes, it only takes one person inviting another person to an event to make them feel a part of the group or noticed. To help with communication, the ABC is planning a training session on Accent modification for effective communication.
GS: BASF is right where research and practical application come together. We know that compounds are used in the process of food production, distribution, storage and disposal of residues. What’s your ethical guide?
AM: By the year 2050, the world population will reach 9 billion. This means that there is an increased need for food, feed, fuel and fiber. Today’s farmers have to grow more food using less land, energy and water, while conserving and sustaining our natural resources. At BASF, we believe in sustainable development. We have to balance our three priorities: economics, care of the environment and meeting the expectations of society. We implement a Product Stewardship program that includes responsible and ethical management of our crop protection products throughout the entire product life cycle.
GS: What’s the most interesting part of your job?
AM: The people. I love the people I work with. We are a very diverse group. In our research group, we have people from every part of the world: Germany, Colombia, China, Brazil, Japan, Germany, Russia, etc.
LP: I agree. That’s the part I like best, too. I’ve always had a great experience with my colleagues at BASF and ABC. It’s really all about learning from one another and building each other up.
GS: What about opportunities
AM: BASF encourages employees to take an active role in their career development and supports growth. I have moved three times within the company. You have to discuss your career plans with your manager and make this part of your development program.
GS: Is it like finding a match?
AM: Yes! Since BASF is a large company, there are plenty of opportunities within your business or at other sites throughout the world. People can also move out of their field of expertise, if they desire. Researchers have the opportunity to shift their careers to sales, marketing or operations, for example.
GS: Lauren, would you like to go to another country?
LP: Since my daughter is young, we’d like to stay here for right now. This is certainly an option down the road, though.
GS: Was there ever a time when you said, “This is who we are”?
AM: I am an American citizen, but it’s hard for me to give up my Indian identity. I sometimes find that some Asians like to live in their own little bubble with people from their own country. It’s a comfort zone. As Lauren mentioned earlier, we should reach out and experience other cultures.
LP: I agree with that. I very much enjoy coming to work with people who are not like me, getting different views. Because I am from NC, my perspective is limited. I enjoy gaining knowledge about other areas.
GS: We’ve talked about how BASF is “global” yet “local” and how your programs encourage Asians to develop themselves, to grow by taking advantage of your offerings at ABC… Finally, if I were going to the Dragon Boat Festival at Koka Booth in Cary on September 23, what will I find in your science booth? I understand you are preparing interesting stuff for all ages.
LP: We will display our Living Acres, a program that BASF has with farmers to promote growing milkweed for monarch preservation. Milkweed is the major food source for the monarch butterfly caterpillar, who are pollinators, and the site for the female butterflies to lay their eggs. We work with farmers to incorporate milkweed on their land in off-farm locations. We will also inform the public, especially kids, about the need to continue to grow milkweed, why it’s important to preserve the monarch habitat, and give them tips on how to grow it.
AM: We will also have a fun Bug quiz. We’ll ask kids to match the bugs in the picture to the location around or inside a house. We will also showcase a working bee hive, within a glass case, and will talk about the bees and the various castes within the hive.
LP: We will be giving away bug stickers and sunglasses with monarch butterfly pictures on the lenses. We look forward to participating in the event and providing education to the visitors.
Interview for Asian Focus by Gregoria D. Smith, PhD.