JUERGEN Meyn runs a complex business with diverse responsibilities as the Thailand chief of a multinational company offering products with leading technology for a range of manufacturing applications.
But, when it comes to leadership style, it’s much simpler. The German executive is guided by a few basic principles: “Always be respectful to everybody, be honest, and be there for your team,” he says of his role at the helm of hi-tech polymer materials supplier Covestro (Thailand) Co., Ltd.
Drawing on his experience in production, including in a multinational working environment, Meyn took over the role of managing director of Covestro Thailand and site manager of the company’s manufacturing plant at Map Ta Phut in Rayong province on June 1.
“At Covestro, we prefer to talk more about leadership than management style. For me there are a few basic principles. To always be respectful to everybody is one. At the same time, be honest. It is my strong belief that this is the basis on which we can build up trustful relationships. To have a purpose and strive for it is another basic principle,” says the 55-year-old executive, who was born in Freiburg/Elbe.
“I really like Covestro’s purpose – to make the world a brighter place,” he says. “For me personally, that fits very well with my aims and provides excellent guidance for an inspiring vision for the business, as well as in private life.
“Today’s world is very complex and changing at an increasing speed. To cope with that, active networking is imperative. This also means that as a manager you should be easily approachable, especially for your team. And that is another one of the basic principles: be there for your team.”
The German company Covestro was earlier Bayer's materials science division, known as Bayer MaterialScience, before it was spun off in 2015 to become an independent and separate legal entity operating under the name Covestro.
Covestro is now a world-leading supplier of hi-tech polymer materials. It has three businesses in Thailand under the responsibility of Covestro (Thailand), covering polyurethanes, polycarbonates, and also coatings, adhesives and other specialties.
Its world-scale manufacturing site in the Map Ta Put Industrial Estate produces polycarbonates and specialty films. It also has a Systems House in Bangpoo Industrial Estate, Samut Prakan, which tailor-makes polyurethanes for customers’ needs.
Meyn says the keys to success in ensuring the smooth running of the company's manufacturing plant in Map Ta Phut include a strong, committed and energetic team.
“For us there is no question that safety and compliance are the top priorities,” he says. “Even if you might have a good track record, it doesn’t mean you can rest. You need to be pro-active and constantly look for new and innovative ways to improve processes. This includes, of course, technology as well as guiding the behaviour and mindset of every single person at the sites. And that is something we do at Covestro. Therefore, I can sleep well at night.”
Also helping Meyn to sleep soundly is his conviction that polymers are “something definitely amazing”.
His enthusiasm is founded on a big-picture view. “Our hi-tech polymer materials are certainly amazing from my point of view. Just imagine what would be missing in our life if we didn’t have such materials,” he says. “They significantly increase our standard of living. And there is no doubt in my mind that these materials also will contribute to overcoming our global challenges. Addressing sustainability is essential to ensure livelihoods on our planet. If we keep up our innovation, inspired by sustainability, this will have a significant positive impact.”
Covestro’s technology-laden materials “are simply indispensable in many areas”, he says, from climate change and the transformation of energy systems to increasing mobility and the growth of cities.
“Let’s start with efficient mobility – autonomous driving, electro-mobility and connectivity; the automobile is entering a new stage of evolution. The way we travel could change significantly over the next decade,” says Meyn, a chemistry graduate who obtained his PhD in 1990.
“This calls for a fresh approach to design, lightweight construction and efficiency. Innovative plastics are part of the solution. Covestro is working to make the automobile of the future more individual and economic with innovative materials and production processes, ranging from the bodywork to the lighting of the car.”
The models of the future will not bear much resemblance to today’s designs, he says, because requirements are changing with the advent of new technologies such as autonomous driving and electro-mobility. “Anyone looking for a conventional radiator grille will be disappointed, because a seamless surface can now be created using high-performance plastic polycarbonate, replacing the steel and other materials used to date,” Meyn says.
“One of the new type of vehicles’ notable features is a wraparound polycarbonate glazing instead of a window made of glass. The pillars are completely invisible, so that the occupants enjoy an unobstructed 360-degree view. The result is not only highly attractive and aesthetically appealing, but also particularly efficient: fewer joints means less drag, and less drag means less energy consumption and ultimately a greater range. And that’s a major topic, since electro-mobility vehicles’ relatively low driving radius is currently one of the main obstacles to the general acceptance and spread of electric vehicles.
“And there’s another way in which polycarbonates help save electricity; they offer insulating properties that protect the vehicle’s occupants from heat and cold, so less strain is placed on the heating and air conditioning systems, which are powered by the battery in an electric car.”
And these developments fit neatly with Meyn’s broader concerns for the environment.
“Fossil resources such as crude oil are becoming increasing scarce. It is time to rethink our approach,” he says. “In the search for alternatives, carbon dioxide is showing promise as a new raw material for the chemical industry.”
He says that Covestro is leading the way in this respect. Thanks to what he calls a groundbreaking innovation, the company has started manufacturing foam components using this greenhouse gas. As a result, it is now possible for consumers to purchase mattresses and upholstered furniture made from this much-derided gas.
Plastics production accounts for between 4 and 6 per cent of the entire output of crude oil. But oil supplies are limited. Additionally, oil extraction and processing consume vast amounts of energy and generate emissions on a grand scale, Meyn says.
“Scientists have consequently been working on alternatives for several decades. Solutions based on renewable raw materials have so far been the major promising development area,” he says. “Focus on another alternative, CO2, is currently increasing. Like oil, it contains carbon – the chemical symbol for which is ‘C’. Carbon forms the basis for all life on earth and is also the most important building block for plastics. The benefits of using CO2 are evident; it is available in almost unlimited quantities.
“The solutions – filtering waste gas to harness the ‘C’ in CO2 – would appear to be an obvious one but what sounds simple is in fact complex, particularly since carbon dioxide, as an end of product of combustion, is extremely inert and slow to enter into combinations with others. For 50 years, researchers from around the world have tried unsuccessfully to achieve a real breakthrough in term of its technical exploitation.”
But thanks to the right catalyst and a new process, he says, carbon dioxide has become a useful raw material. “It now makes up 20 per cent of a precursor for flexible polyurethane foam produced by Covestro,” Meyn says: “The foam is subsequently used to manufacture products such as mattresses. This would act as a major lever for the entire chemical and plastics industry, boosting its sustainability.”
Meyn says that Covestro openly advocates the comprehensive and global approach of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals. By 2025, its target is to have 80 per cent of project expenditures for research and development go toward the areas that contribute to reaching these goals.
“The global challenges of our times are diverse and multifaceted – but so are their solutions. It is an approach that also shapes our thinking and action at Covestro.” Meyn says. “However great our challenges may be, they always offer opportunities. We work unceasingly to find new, unconventional solutions based on high-quality materials.
“We don’t ask: ‘why?’; we say ‘why not?’. With this attitude, our company creates innovative product processes, underscoring our goals. We want to push the boundaries to make the world a brighter place in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
As for Thailand, Meyn regards it as a beautiful country with “lovely, very friendly” people. “What I like most here are the people, the way they behave and how they treat you. We, that means my wife and I, felt welcomed immediately,” he says. “Everybody is so eager to help and challenges you face as a just-arrived foreigner become much easier with all that support.”
During the four months of his tenure, Meyn and his wife used spare time on their weekends to explore Thailand and the landmarks between Bangkok and Rayong.
Meyn says that he and his wife are determined not to limit their travels to just a few provinces and are looking to expand the radius of their outings to more and more provinces. After all, they want to get to know the country they now live in.
“I’m also a big motorcycle fan. To work on my vintage motorcycle or ride any motorcycle for me is a good way to relax,” Meyn says. “Additionally, we enjoy travelling. After arriving in Thailand, there is already a list of places in the country and the region where we would like to go for weekend trips and longer vacations.”