POSITION: Vice President and Project Execution Owner, MDI3 Project
COMPANY: BASF Geismar
WHAT THEY DO: BASF Geismar’s 32 production units produce a wide range of chemicals that are used in hundreds of everyday consumer items. With more than 2,000 employees, the plant is now among the largest employers in Louisiana and is the company’s largest manufacturing facility in North America. Additionally, BASF’s Louisiana sites have announced projects yielding more than $1 billion in new capital investment and more than 100 permanent jobs.
Beth Holland has been with BASF the entirety of her 25-year career, essentially spending half her time running chemical plants and the other half building them.
Upon graduating LSU with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, she began her career as a summer intern in Germany in 1999, then later as an operations engineer at BASF’s Geismar site. After overseeing construction of her first plant in Geismar in 2007, she moved into a technology manager’s role to oversee construction of chemical plants in Germany, Belgium and China from 2007-11.
In 2011, she served as the site director of a small manufacturing site in West Memphis, Arkansas, then as vice president of operations at BASF’s “Verbund” site in Freeport, Texas, before eventually finding her way back to Louisiana. Holland says she was “itching to build again,” so was handed project execution responsibilities for the Geismar plant’s $1 billion-plus MDI3 project.
The biggest challenge of Beth Holland’s career? Finding ways to stay hungry and curious. “Some of my experience working globally has taught me that you must fight to broaden your own perspective, be open to others and really understand your business better by seeking out and learning new things,” Holland says. “You can find yourself relying on old habits and old ways of doing things. It’s a personal challenge, but I’ve also worked on teams where I’ve had to help them develop and get over those challenges as well.”
Over her diverse career, she’s faced a number of dilemmas in a variety of environments. “I’ve worked in businesses that were economically challenged,” she adds. “They were in the red and I was tasked with trying to turn them around. And then there were other times when I walked into a manufacturing facility where it was a difficult economic environment and I had to make some difficult decisions.
“That’s where I learned about being hungry, because I’ve been the one doing the shutdown calculations for a facility. I’ve been the one who’s made the decision to close a plant down. And once you do that you never forget it.”
The events of the last few years—the COVID-19 pandemic, Ukraine War and other macroeconomic events—have increased her need to “stay curious” and adopt a learner’s mindset. Says Holland: “These events have really accelerated the whole topic of digitalizing our workforce and getting more workflows in a digital format.”
And while she knew these things needed to happen, determining the best approach has been a challenge. “There has been a big generational transition in our workforce,” she says. “I knew what to do and even how to do it, but their ‘how’ and my ‘how’ were different.”
Holland had to learn how to “let go” and learn to use new tools. “That’s been a big growth piece for me—learning some of those new tools and allowing people to take my experience and translate it into their tools. That way, I’m learning something new.
“Part of staying curious is about staying relevant. Because if you’re not careful, your knowledge and experience can get fairly stale if you’re not willing to learn new things.”
For every new assignment, Holland first seeks to learn the business and understand the drivers of profitability and customer satisfaction. “I want to understand what it means for a plant to operate safely,” she says.
She also seeks to eliminate complacency in the workspace. “Complacency in a business makes you less efficient, and possibly less profitable. And complacency in safety means that people get hurt. You must fight that human nature of getting too comfortable and too complacent with what you do every day.”
Holland has learned that all businesses go through cycles, and those can come and go. “If you always hop from profitable business to profitable business, you’re not really growing or challenging yourself,” she says. “You need to stick with the business and see it go through those cycles. It’s through those cycles that you learn.”
Seeking out new experiences is key to staying hungry and curious. “Go do things, gain experiences, get out in the world. You can read things on the internet all day long and read the newspaper all day long, but until you go to those countries, those places and experience them, you don’t actually have the full picture of what things are like.
“I travel and I get on the ground and talk with the people doing the work and go see for myself.”