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The Warsaw Voice » Business » December 19, 2007
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Invisible But Everywhere
December 19, 2007   
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Torsten Penkuhn, chairman of BASF Polska Sp. z o.o., talks to Konrad Bagiński.

BASF has undergone a transformation in recent years. What did this involve?
An active portfolio management is an integral part of our strategy. A few years ago BASF was associated with music and VHS tapes. In fact, we got rid of this part of the business 10 years ago. Now BASF is the world's biggest chemical company, with more than 8,000 products including chemicals, plastics, products for the construction industry, pesticides, oil and natural gas. The company's character is reflected by the slogan we used in our recent advertising campaign in Poland: "Invisible Contribution. Visible Success." The chair you are sitting on most likely includes a flexible plastic we produced. In your car, some of the seat or dashboard components, not to mention the paint, may also come from our company. We work with clients in industries like construction, cars, consumer electronics and cosmetics. In all these fields, we contribute to our clients' success through our products, comprehensive solutions and advisory services.

What factories do you have in Poland?
Until recently, we had an animal feed plant near Kutno, but we sold it as part of a global transaction to Nutreco. Now we have one production plant in My¶lenice near Cracow that produces additives for concrete. Next year, we plan to spend more than 10 million euros on investment there. We plan to build another production plant in Poland that will produce and distribute chemical substances. We focus mainly on products for the construction, automotive and furniture industries. We want to have around four such centers eventually.

It is worth adding that our strategy focuses on client needs. We aim at becoming a supplier who provides customized solutions for Polish industry. I'll give you an example linked with environmental protection. We are carrying out contracts for Poland's leading chemical companies, such as Zakłady Azotowe Puławy, for the supply of special catalysts for the decomposition of nitrous oxide (N2O), also called laughing gas. It is 300 times more harmful that the famous carbon dioxide (CO2) that is often cited in discussions on the greenhouse effect. Of course this is not the only example. For years, we have also supplied additives for fuels for another important Polish company, Orlen.

What are your expansion plans in Poland?
When looking at the figures, I attach particular attention to organic growth. I estimate that in the near future we will grow at some 13 percent a year. Last year our sales reached around zl.1.55 billion.

What is the role of Poland in BASF's strategy? Is it more than a beachhead for expansion to the East?
BASF Polska plays an important role in the entire group for several reasons. First, our sales constitute some 30 percent of BASF's revenue in Central and Eastern Europe. Second, Poland is one of the few emerging markets in Europe where everyone wants to invest. The Euro 2012 soccer championships will take place here. I know that there is a debate in Poland on this issue, but I've lived here for quite a while and I'm sure you will manage to prepare for the event in time. I often tell my colleagues from Ludwigshafen [BASF's German headquarters] that if they want to know what Warsaw will look like in five years, they should visit Madrid.

I also have to mention the construction industry. Right now it is growing fast, and BASF will take part in this process. We have a full range of chemical construction products and comprehensive building insulation systems.

How many BASF products do people come across every day without even realizing it?
BASF products can be found in sunscreen creams, cleaning detergents, gasoline and diesel fuel, jeans (indigo dye), shoes, and so on. I've already mentioned furniture and cars, so I'll now add a few words about buildings. In Poland, a new generation of Styrofoam is available (that, by the way, was also invented by us). It is gray, not white, and is 20 percent more effective in insulation. This product is called Neopor and it has already been used for effective insulation in many buildings in Poland. Another of our patents, Micronal, involves microscopic wax granules mixed into plaster. In the summer, they dissolve and gather heat, and then release it on colder days.

In terms of innovation, it is also worth mentioning that BASF is very active in nanotechnology and genetic research. In the former field, we have recently developed a special agent called Mincor that, when applied to the surface of a material, makes it waterproof. In addition, when it flows away, it carries all the dirt along with it. In biotechnology, BASF is developing, with the use of genetically modified plants such as Amflora potato (that has a modified starch composition), products used in the paper and textile industries. Out researchers are also working on organic sun batteries, portable energy cells and a very thin organic material called OLED that in the future may be used for lighting rooms, offering lower energy consumption than light bulbs. Such solutions create added value for our commercial partners and for consumers.

Warm House for You (Ciepły Dom dla Ciebie)

One example of BASF's cooperation with organizations and companies interested in energy saving is the "Warm House for You" project that encourages people in Poland to insulate buildings with Neopor. It is being carried out in cooperation with the national Energy Conservation Agency (NAPE), Biuro Projektowe Lipińscy, the Termo Organika company, and Fortis Bank.
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