Like any company that lasts for 200 years, DuPont has had to adapt and renew itself in order to survive and thrive, says DuPont Senior Vice President and Chief Science and Technology Officer Douglas Muzyka.
Muzyka, BESc’77, MESc’79, PhD’85, spoke to faculty, staff and students during the inaugural Distinguished Lecture in the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Western Ontario on Nov. 17.
He discussed the challenges and opportunities in sustainability; the changing nature of innovation; and the importance of internationalism for a scientist.
Prior to Muzyka’s studies at Western, he never travelled beyond Canada and the United States. But it was from an international exchange opportunity presented at Western that Muzyka discovered a desire to apply his skills on a global scale and gave him a new perspective on worldly issues.
“Western gave me the opportunity to actually head my professional career in that direction,” he says.
The focus of the U.S.-based company throughout the 19th century was mainly on explosives. But by the 20th century, there was an apparent need to diversify. DuPont ventured into the dye and textile business and with it came a shift in its science base. Products such as Freon, Teflon, Lycra and Kevlar are examples of DuPont’s surge into the marketplace resulting from diversified chemical engineering during the mid-20th century.
“This is a period where inside the company there was a tremendous amount of chemical engineering going on,” Muzyka says. “We nurtured chemical engineering and chemical sciences during that period in a quite remarkable way.”
Not wanting to rest on its laurels and with the increased commoditization of technologies such as polyester, DuPont began to re-evaluate its focus. Again, sustainability was a top priority.
This time, the answer seemed to fall in petroleum energy because “we could enhance our cost position by integrating up-stream and having access to low cost raw materials to be able to drive our chemicals business,” he says.
Looking at long-term, needs-based product trends, DuPont has tried to become more a market-driven and customer-oriented company in its evolution.
With population growth reaching beyond seven billion in 2011 and expecting to increase to nine billion by 2050, this will have a significant impact on the economic growth worldwide. This global issue is going to need companies like DuPont to step up to the challenges to help develop solutions, he suggests.
“It is going to create enormous challenges on one hand, and enormous opportunities on the other hand if you are able to position your science and technology in a way to bring solutions to some of these problems,” Muzyka says.
A significant amount of growth is expected to be centred in developing countries, particularly in Asia. For DuPont, this means its core markets will change, and the nature of its offerings and technologies need to change with it. Population growth also demands an increase in food production, which will have a significant global impact.
As well, fossil fuels are not a sustainable energy resource, and unless technologies are diversified, the global energy consumption will exceed the available resources.
“If I look back on the rapid development that is taking place in China over the last number of years, the stress of that development on the environment and on the people … presents a tremendous number of stresses and opportunities for companies to find solutions to make this development more ultimately sustainable,” he says.
DuPont is hinging its future on three core technology areas to address these world-wide issues: agriculture and nutrition and production agriculture; advance materials; and renewable materials.
It is in the company’s interest to make innovations accessible in developing countries, Muzyka notes.
“Getting the richness of our technology accessible to those markets that are growing around the world is a fundamentally important thing for us to do,” he says.
Muzyka joined DuPont in 1985 as a research scientist and held a variety of research and research management roles in North America through 1994. He was named director of Technology and New Business Development for DuPont Nylon, Asia Pacific, in 1994 and relocated to Hong Kong. From 1994 to 1998 he participated in many plant start-ups and new venture developments throughout Asia Pacific.
In 1998, Muzyka relocated to the United States to become global business director for the Nylon Industrial Specialties business, a position he held until January 2001. He was then named president and general manager of DuPont Mexico. He was named president and chief executive officer of DuPont Canada Inc., in January 2003 and concurrently vice president and general manager - DuPont Nutrition & Health in September 2003.
In July 2006, he returned to Asia assuming the role of President DuPont Greater China. He was named to his current position in September 2010. Muzyka has served on advisory boards for universities in Singapore and Canada, as well as on boards of Chambers of Commerce, industry associations and business councils on sustainable development in Canada, Mexico and China.
He graduated class valedictorian from Western, with a bachelor’s (1977), master’s (1979) and doctorate degree (1985) in chemical engineering. He completed additional research at the Université de Téchnologie de Compiègne in France and worked as a researcher in the coal industry in France prior to joining DuPont.
To view photos from the Distinguished Lecture in the Faculty of Engineering, click here.
Read the complete story: Engineering News, Heather Travis
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