MANY credit their career choice and success to a special teacher. For Cicelia van Rooi, it was Desmond Sauer of Pacaltsdorp Secondary School in George, who founded the school’s Green Club and took his environmental army on community clean-ups. ‘He was truly inspirational, organising hikes across the Outeniqua Mountains, which cultivated in me a love of nature that has never left,’ she recalls. ‘He would say “nature has its own music, you have just to open your ears”.’
Now, as MD and main driver of Dow Southern Africa’s growth strategy, she is fixated on building the world’s most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive and sustainable materials science company.
Cicelia has been in the hotseat for two years, since Dow and DuPont were merging. ‘It was an opportune time to renew commitment to black empowerment, promoting inclusion and diversity for our region,’ she explains.
And to strengthen environmental efforts. Cicelia is particularly proud of the company’s Northern Cape renewable energy projects, which can provide clean and sustainable power to 475 000 households.
In 2017, Dow became a major player in Project Butterfly to educate the community on the importance of a litter-free world and the inherent value of waste reflected in the wondrous creations made from recycled plastics.
Project Butterfly is just one item on a hefty agenda for Cicelia and her team. Dow’s sustainability drive started 30 years ago and picked up speed like a snowball on a fast-melting polar icecap.
The company’s newly announced targets are to cut annual carbon emissions by five-million tons by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050. With its partnerships, it will collect, reuse or recycle one-million tons of plastic by the end of the decade. Five years later, 100% of Dow’s products for packaging will be reusable or recyclable.
With this brief, Cicelia’s ‘lead without ego’ philosophy should serve her well. ‘Leaving my ego at the door and approaching everything with transparency and sincerity always brings the best outcome,’ she insists.
She doesn’t shy away from honest feedback, believing it enables growth. ‘I was told to learn to fail successfully, which I didn’t understand at the time, but now know is how you remain constructive when things don’t work out as expected.’
More recently, a team leader instructed her to step out of the admin box and report to the table. ‘Several high-profile people were visiting and I was so busy fussing over details that I missed the critical discussions taking place,’ she explains. ‘He looked me in the eye and insisted I take a seat at the table.’
With Dow creating transformative materials and solutions that promise to change the world, discussions are clearly more important than fretting over sandwiches.
This continuous learning enables one not only to grow personally, but to add value to others, Cicelia believes. ‘When we become more conscious of our behaviour and its impact, we try to make better choices.
‘It’s realising that business has a broader societal role than just deriving profit for shareholders. It’s incorporating changes in practices that create valued services for customers, stakeholders and the community.’
Unsurprisingly, Dow consumes most of Cicelia’s waking hours, but family remains her antidote to the corporate clamour. She, husband Brent and sons Caden (13) and Kai (7) spend joyous hours around the pool, walking their dogs, exercising their artistic talents and devouring series on Netflix, where they’re currently rediscovering that bad boy Will Smith was once a fresh prince.
Being a bookworm, Cicelia’s night stand is always amply stocked. She is currently enjoying ‘Sapiens: A brief history of humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari, who reckoned in a previous book that: ‘Soon, books will read you while you are reading them.’
If Sapiens is reading Cicelia, it will definitely spot the wide open ears that still hear the sweet Sauer words reminding her to relish every note of life’s music.