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From the time she was a little girl competing in science fairs in Chicago, Alexa Dembek has been drawn to the world of science and technology. Today, Alexa is the Chief Technology & Sustainability Officer at DuPont, where she believes she has found the perfect place to use science to make an impact on the world. On this episode of IT Visionaries, Alexa shared with us her role as a champion for growth at the company, and she discussed the way they use failure as a spark for innovation and as a way to propel ideas and people forward. And those ideas are being brought into the world as products designed to create a more sustainable environment for all.
Best Advice: “Understand how the business makes money and what’s the role of science and technology and engineering and making more money. And then, of course, talent. Talent is a critical role in achieving it. So know the talent.”
- Failure is a great opportunity to learn and advance projects
- When taking on a project, you need to know what you need to learn, rather than only focusing on what you already know
- Innovation is to be encouraged if you want to stay ahead of the curve
Blending science and technology at DuPont
Working in science has always been one of Alexa’s biggest passion and she believes she has found the perfect place to use science in a meaningful way at DuPont. DuPont has been around for more than 215 years, so it has been forced to reinvent itself several times and they have done so again recently. After the merger with Dow, DuPont put an even greater focus on solving big problems in areas including mobility, urbanization, safety, sustainability and more.
“It’s a perfect place to use science to make an impact. The reason I became a scientist is the love of science, the love of curiosity. It all comes down to solving big problems.”
“We’re really excited to have a purpose that is empowering the world with the essential innovations to thrive.”
“I think the problems of today feel big, but if we rewind the video 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years ago, I’ll bet the problems at that time felt big too. I think the difference today is the pace of change is so fast. We all feel this urgency. We’re on overload from all of the information that we get that we need to sort of change the game on how we work and how we’re even more effective. So something I think a lot about is in order to be even more effective in the future, what’s the entrepreneurial spirit that we need? What kind of a culture do we need so that not only me but our teams don’t feel overwhelmed with what we’re trying to accomplish and rather, they wake up every day saying, ‘We got this. We can make an impact. We know how to point our science and our engineering and our technology. So let’s look at it as just a great opportunity to change the future.’”
Alexa’s role as CTO and Sustainability Officer
One of the most important parts of Alexa’s job is to be a champion of growth for the company. She is constantly thinking ahead and looking toward the future in order to be able to lead a strategy that will allow DuPont to create the biggest possible impact in the areas they work in. And she thinks about it through the lens of being as sustainable internally as possible and how they can bring sustainability to their customers as well. Whether that means producing kevlar for the military or products for the healthcare market or electric cars, Alexa says that the number one goal for the company is to produce products that work and are sustainable in the long run.
In order to stay on the cutting edge of innovation, Alexa says that DuPont invests almost a billion dollars into research, innovation, and technology. The company has innovation laboratories all over the world where scientists and technologists work on products that people don’t even know they need yet, and Alexa gets to work closely with those people. And she encourages failure because it’s from failure she believes we learn the most. Regardless of whether you are working on a short-term project that is close to the customer, or working more long-term, understanding what you know and what you still need to learn is critical to creating products.
“Where I add the most value in the role is I spend time making sure and supporting our businesses to enable success to drive growth. What I do is help stretch our thinking to not only what do we do today, but what should we be doing in the future? What are the problems that are right around the corner that we should be tackling with innovation and solving now?”
“The most important thing for DuPont, it’s not advertising, it’s not just a brand, it’s not talking about the product. It’s about making sure that our product protects people like you against threats. Whether they’re ballistic threats, whether they’re thermal threats, whatever the threat is, the goal is that you go home every day to your family and that you’re safe.”
“Innovation isn’t innovation if it doesn’t have risk. It has to have risk to be able to have the upside reward. And with risk comes failure. Everything shouldn’t work. We should embrace failure, but most importantly learn from it so that we can develop even faster products and we can get to market and solve problems more quickly.”
Working toward digital transformation and new products
Recently, DuPont launched a program called Spark, which is focused on digital transformation and using digital tools to make an impact within a company. With new technology, employees can focus on bringing new products to market faster than ever before. And at DuPont, some of the products they are working on are truly incredible and will make a difference on the planet.
“The biggest contribution that our company can make to the planet and therefore to sustainability is through innovation. It’s through the innovation that we have in healthy living, in urbanization, in safety and connectivity and mobility, it’s through those areas that we focus our innovation and it tackles the sustainable development goals of reducing hunger, clean water, health and wellness, making sure that we can make a difference in climate action, in improving and reducing inequalities. So innovation, science, technology, engineering, that’s what’s needed to solve many of these problems. With DuPont, I am so excited and I really am passionate about this combination where we can bring together all of the power that we have and connect it into developing a more sustainable world and creating value along the way for our shareholders, for our customers and for our communities.”