Emery Severin

BSc (Hons) (1977), and D.Phil from Oxford University

What is your current position, and what do you do?
I am currently in between roles, since my retirement from Nuplex late last year, after the company was sold to a private equity firm from Germany. Based in Sydney, Nuplex was a global specialty chemicals company with a 65 year history. Its origins were from New Zealand, and the company was listed on the New Zealand and Australian stock exchanges. Nuplex had 17 manufacturing sites scattered across the globe and traded in over 80 countries. Nuplex primarily produced polymer resins for use in the global industrial coatings industry, as well as producing products for decorative coatings, composites, paper, inks and textiles. Today my career is in transition, and I’m considering options in another CEO role, or some non-executive directorships, as well as becoming involved in more not-for-profit organisations, such as the UNSW Foundation.

How did you transition into this current role from a science degree?
When I completed my D. Phil. in physical chemistry at Oxford University in 1981 I was committed to returning to service in the Australian Army as a signals corps officer so could not pursue a research career at the time. I did have the opportunity to return to research and academia when I left the army some years later, but instead decided to pursue a career in management and leadership in manufacturing industry, so I joined BHP in 1986. I held various roles in manufacturing, then general management in BHP, then Boral, before joining Nuplex in 2010. So it took me around 30 years to finally get a job as a chemist!

How have you used the skills/knowledge that you acquired, from studying chemistry, in your work?
Chemistry, like any of the physical sciences, provides a sound base for rational thinking and complex problem solving - necessary skills for all leaders and managers. It provides a frameworks to break problems down into their fundamental elements and drivers. Understanding those elements and drivers enables good solutions to be developed.

What are your interests outside of work?
Outside of work I have a small vineyard in South Australia and supply one of Australia’s highly regarded boutique winemakers. I enjoy carpentry, painting and keeping fit.

What advice would you give to students starting their science careers?
My advice to students starting out in science is that if you choose the right combination of rigorous subjects, then you will build a great foundation of critical thinking and get practical skills that will enable you to pursue just about anything that your passions may lead you towards doing.

What helps you achieve a work-life balance?
Work-life balance is a bit overrated - it’s all about being able to making conscious choices about what you want to do and how much time you want to spend doing it. Some people actually like to spend the majority of their professional (non-family) time working because they actually enjoy it!

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