Since becoming the leader of Covestro’s North American Coatings, Adhesives and Specialties (CAS) business on February 1, 2018, Aleta Richards has been applying her 25-plus years of working for the company to making Covestro more competitive. Specifically, the Pittsburgh native is getting her team to apply creativity and innovation toward new product development.
“Our ability to think creatively and put innovative ideas into new products is the key to our long-term success,” said Richards. Toward that end, she is melding the knowledge of experienced workers with the fresh perspectives and technological orientation of newer colleagues.
On the business side and in the lab, Richards has experienced the power of improved technology through stronger collaboration among team members. She encourages her team to share ideas and get feedback using collaborative tools, like the idea.lounge, a digital platform Covestro launched last year to strengthen its global innovation culture.
“We want to empower all our employees… to contribute to innovation.”
Although Richards likes to be at the technological forefront, she places greater emphasis on face-to-face interactions. “People are the lifeblood of our business, and I enjoy getting to know team members, customers and partners.” As the executive sponsor of ACCESS, an employee resource group at Covestro that aims to inspire underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers, she likes the balance that one-on-one communication and mentoring provides.
Richards is also the executive sponsor of a book chat for female employees, which she started years ago with another colleague in the Polycarbonates business unit. While she continues to support her fellow readers in Polycarbonates, she found a similar book club waiting for her in CAS. “Now I have to keep up with two groups,” she said with a hint of pride.
Richards credits former Bayer executive Dick White with encouraging her to join the company while working on her undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, from which she also earned an MBA.
“He had more confidence in me than I did in myself, and I’ll always be grateful for his support.”
When Richards began her career, the company was called Mobay, a Monsanto-Bayer joint venture. It became Bayer Corporation in the mid-1990s, and the polymer division was named Bayer MaterialScience in the early 2000s. When Bayer separated its material division business in 2015, Covestro was born. The name is a combination of words representing the business’s identity: collaboration, well-invested and strong (in workforce, markets and innovation).
Although not directly involved in the company’s most visible projects, Richards is proud of Covestro for supporting the Energy Flow lighting project on the Rachel Carson (Ninth Street) Bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh, conceived for the city’s bicentennial celebration two years ago.
Most recently, Covestro joined the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carnegie Mellon’s College of Engineering in a joint initiative, called “Rethink the Rink,” which aims to improve hockey safety through material solutions. The organizations will initially focus on redesigning rink dasher boards and glass, and could later explore the use of materials in playing equipment.
“Those collaborations are great examples of how Pittsburgh pulls together diverse groups of people working toward a common purpose,” said Richards. “It’s what the region did to reinvent itself after the steel industry declined, and it’s what we should continue doing to strengthen our leadership position in education, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and other STEM fields.”