Maria Almenar - Belgium

As Azelis continues to grow, new opportunities appear in the various parts of the world where we are present and thriving. Offering these opportunities to our employees and a chance to discover new worlds, progress and personal development, is at the heart of our talent mobility program.

Talent mobility Azelis

which led her to study for an MSc in Chemical Engineering at the University of Barcelona, including a one year Erasmus scholarship grant at the University of Lyon in France. After completing her studies, Maria started her career in the industry as a chemical engineer in Barcelona, first at Exxon Mobil and then at Total Petrochemicals.

We asked Maria how she ended up in Antwerp and what she does there:
My student year in Lyon and my professional kick-off in global petrochemical companies in Barcelona motivated me to work abroad. My wish materialized when I was accepted for a 6-month program to work at the European Commission in the REACH Unit of the Directorate General of Enterprise & Industry in Brussels in 2010. At that time, REACH was THE chemical legislation in the EU. In my collaboration with the European Commission, I was in charge of the practical roll-out and examination of technical dossiers helping both industry and regulators to understand the impact of this legislation.

Immediately after my assignment at the EC, I joined the FECC (European Association Of Chemical Companies) in Brussels where I spent two years serving the chemical distribution sector, while still working with a European team. My interest for this sector led me to my next career move when Azelis offered me a position as SHEQ manager for France and Benelux (2012), which later evolved into my current position as Head of group SHEQ (2014) at our corporate service center in Antwerp!

As a Spaniard in Belgium, what are some of the cultural differences? What have been the biggest changes for you? 
Since 2010 I have had time to appreciate cultural differences between Spain and Belgium. There's a culture of compromise, which often helps in resolving issues in a smooth and long-lasting manner. We share the same excellence in culture and food, but I must admit chocolate is better here. And I'm still struggling to adapt to early meal hours.

In my role as President of the Technical Commissions in the BACD (Belgian Association of Chemical Distributors) I have also had the opportunity to witness the exceptional entrepreneurship of small and medium businesses in Belgium and the amazing multilingualism of the people.

What has been the hardest thing about settling in Belgium?
It is always very emotionally challenging to be away from my family and friends in Barcelona, but frequent two-hour flights help. And after all these years in Belgium, I now have a new international family, which is exciting. It also took some time to get used to always carry an umbrella, but I'm now always ready to face the rain.

You were first located in Azelis' Heusden office before moving to Corporate. How did that move happen, what sparked it?
When I first joined Azelis, I was appointed local France & Benelux SHEQ Manager and was happy to work with the very professional and friendly team of Heusden. Two years after joining Azelis, the management proposed that I move on to Corporate. I gladly accepted this new challenge, which meant I would be able to develop multi-site projects with a global impact while still keeping close to local operations.

What do you like the most about working in a corporate function?
It offers unique opportunities to conceive and implement ambitious multi-site projects which serve the business in all regions and locations. I enjoy contacts with other functions, which very much broaden my view. This multifunctional environment is particularly thrilling. Corporate gives me an opportunity to work on the SHEQ strategy for the group whilst my experience in operations helps me to do so in a practical way, fulfilling business and meeting local expectations.

What are the most rewarding aspects of this job?
The most rewarding thing for me is when I manage to make other colleagues progress at work. To create progress in the structure and of course, to support the business in solving issues. I love working in a team, bringing people together and doing all of this in a good atmosphere.

Through these travels and changes, how have you changed as a person? Have you learned something about yourself that you maybe didn't know before?
It has enabled me to have a better understanding of other cultures and get rid of some of the stereotypes. It has also helped me with questioning my own convictions and being more tolerant and open to change. I have learned that I'm actually more flexible than I thought and capable to find solutions in unknown surroundings and cultures.

What are your thoughts about the internal mobility program?
Azelis is a global organization that offers multiple opportunities to its employees. The internal mobility program is an excellent opportunity to get out of our comfort zones and develop new skills in new environments. I definitely encourage everybody to find out more about it, not to hesitate and be open to change. Progress is impossible without change!