French chemist and microbiologist, Louis Pasteur stated, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” As the Plenary Speaker of the 44th International Waterborne, High-Solids, and Powder Coatings Symposium recently held in New Orleans, Sarah Eckersley, global director of R&D and TS&D for Coatings, Monomers & Plastics Additives at The Dow Chemical Company emphasized the accuracy of that statement and applied it to the coatings industry.
Eckersley’s lecture, “If We Build it, WILL They Come?” posed a question worth exploring. She does not believe that technology adoption is necessarily automatic. Eckersley discussed the importance of technical professionals closely collaborating with marketing experts and others who monitor the changes, patterns, common themes, and concerns in the coatings industry. By doing so, researchers and scientists can better position themselves and their organizations to be innovators and problem solvers, using technology to build something of value. “Our job is to be prepared with science and technology and be observers of what is going on in the world to make those connections in the market place,” says Eckersley.
Using the examples of synthetic binders for waterborne latex paint, the evolution of hiding technology, and next generation can coatings, Eckersley underscored how the economy, environment, and consumer interest often drives technology. But with the increased pace with which information and ideas are exchanged, particularly via social media, how does Eckersley determine her direction as a technical professional?
Having the responsibility of the development and delivery of sustainable and competitive innovations aligned to Dow’s business strategy, Eckersley relies on her social listening skills and insights to help determine her focus. “It requires careful monitoring, which is ongoing, but decisions are largely driven by judgment based on experience,” she says. Her experience includes serving in multiple technical roles at Dow, including global R&D director for Pharma & Food Solutions, global R&D director for Performance Packaging in Performance Plastics, new technology R&D director for Dow Coatings, and global product development and commercialization leader for Dow Latex. Eckersley’s various leadership roles since joining Dow in 1993 have contributed to her ability to ask discerning questions regarding developing technology for the marketplace. “You have to ask questions such as, ‘Does it make commercial sense? What do we have to offer? Do we have technical tools that are relevant? What regulatory issues may impact the decision to move forward?’,” she explains.
As research and product development continues in the coatings industry, the next successful big idea will most likely come from a prepared organization with a clear understanding of the needs of the industry. “Find trends that are inevitable, and align technology to those,” Eckersley says. “We have to make technology relevant.”