People & Culture in Chemicals – HR’s Advice for Future Leaders | Claudia Merfert

In this series of interviews, we explore the dynamic leadership landscape across the chemical industry, uncovering the strategies, challenges and innovations that drive success. Matt Harman, Head of Industrial Chemicals, speaks to HR leaders from some of the world’s most prominent chemicals organisations to gain valuable perspectives on effective leadership practices, talent development and the future of leadership in this vital sector. In this instalment, Matt speaks to Claudia Merfert, Head of People & Organisational Development E/A at Braskem.

About Claudia

Claudia Merfert, Head of People & Organisational Development in Europe and Asia at Braskem, leads the Centre of Expertise, focusing on Talent Attraction, Learning & Organisational Development, DEIB Strategy, and Wellbeing initiatives. With 15 years of HR expertise across diverse industries, Claudia is passionate about advocating for diversity, belonging, inclusive leadership, and psychological safety in the workplace. She holds a degree in business administration with a focus on banking and earned her Master of Science in HRM from the University of Leipzig. Claudia is committed to Braskem’s mission of prioritising both people and the planet.

What advice would you give future leaders in the chemical industry?

In a complex and uncertain environment, empathic leadership is crucial. Leaders who exhibit self-awareness, vulnerability, and genuine engagement with their team are better equipped to navigate challenging times successfully. Future leaders must be adaptable, possess strong communication skills, inspire others and maintain a constant drive for personal and team development. Additionally, in a globalised industry, cultural intelligence (CQ) is becoming as important as emotional intelligence (EQ). Proactively addressing sustainability and ethical challenges is also vital. Leadership is not just about driving results but about nurturing talent, fostering innovation, and creating a resilient organisation that can thrive despite external pressures.

What qualities do you look for that identify people as potential future leaders in the chemicals industry?

In addition to consistent performance, high analytical skills, and results-oriented thinking, we value aspiration and engagement in potential future leaders. Learning agility is essential for navigating uncertainties and complexities. This includes results, people, change, mental agility, and self-knowledge. We seek leaders who can understand problems, explore new concepts, anticipate scenarios, involve others in decision-making, and can influence and be influenced by others. Strategic thinking and fostering a culture of innovation are also critical. Leaders should demonstrate a blend of technical expertise and soft skills, showing strong interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, and commit to continuous improvement.

How are the current supply chain issues impacting people and culture in your organisation and across the industry?

The last few years have brought numerous challenges. During the pandemic, we experienced significant growth in Europe and Asia, which led to onboarding challenges with new team members. The current downcycle has also added uncertainty. At Braskem, we address these issues through strong company culture and transparent communication, openly discussing topics in town hall meetings. We have revised our onboarding process to emphasise experiencing Braskem’s culture, helping new team members understand our strategic pillars and core values early on. This approach builds resilience against industry uncertainties and ensures our team remains productive and engaged despite external pressures.

What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to hiring in 2024?

We seek candidates with specific skills and experience, but we face a limited talent pool and high competition. Unlike in Brazil, Braskem is less known in Europe and Asia, making employer branding crucial. Industry uncertainty also makes candidates hesitant to change jobs. To improve recruiting and support growth, we established a Centre of Expertise with two Talent Acquisition positions and overhauled our recruitment process in 2023. This initiative halved our time-to-hire and enhanced the candidate experience. Strengthening our talent acquisition capabilities and improving the candidate experience help us stay competitive in attracting the best talent. Additionally, addressing diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I) is essential to build a diverse and innovative workforce.

If you would like to discuss any of the topics raised in this piece or if you need support with your leadership resourcing strategy, please get in touch with Matt